January 21, 2010

Exploitation and Buying Secondhand

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:39 am by Editorial Team

4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.[a] 6You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.                   – James 5

As American Christians, we always cross this sin off the list, because we claim we work in a free market, which leads to a fair wage.  We do not personally abuse those around us, and so we become blind to the abuses we do commit.  Rapid globalization has put our “field workers” halfway across the world — out of sight, and out of mind.  When we purchase goods, we rarely thing about the supply chain full of people which brought that product to our doorstep.  We blindly shop at our low-priced stores, enjoying the cheap goods we buy, while pocketing the rest as entertainment or wealth.  And we justify this system, because we do not see exploitation.

We try to ignore it, but we are guilty, as a society, of mass exploitation, both at home and abroad.  We hide behind capitalism and our middle class lifestyles, so we rarely see the abuses of our purchasing power at work.  We purchase from corporations who are squeezing every penny out of the world to maximize profits and reduce our costs.  So we support a company that runs a factory with incredibly poor working conditions.  But of course those workers have a “choice” of whether or not to work there — so we tell ourselves.  When the company is finally forced to begin providing acceptable wages and working conditions, the costs become too great, and they move next door to the next “banana republic.”

As Western Christians, we often feel that we are poor when looking through the lens of our own society — yet, we must see that in the context of globalization, we are the rich young ruler, the rich exploitative landlord who is paying the workers unfair wages.  We do this when we buy from corporations who support these practices.  We collude with these corporations to exploit the people of the world, while growing rich from their blood and labor.

So beyond advocacy for systemic change to these practices, we must find everyday, practical ways of changing these abuses.  The first is to accept that we often must pay more for these things — which means less discretionary money, and less savings.  Some of this could be by purchasing from the right companies, who are open about these practices.

But more realistically, we must redevelop the local economy — one in which we interact with the suppliers of our goods.  One in which we are aware of where and how our products are made.  Beyond the numerous negative effects of our food chain (including our own health), growing our own food and supporting local farmers/ranchers is imperative.  Clothing, the industry most notorious for worker abuses, can be bought secondhand (as well as other household goods).  By taking these actions, we effectively reduce the demand for these products, and hopefully, the abusive practices they create.

In our house/community, we strongly challenge one another to buy things secondhand/used.  This is because we know that when we purchase new items, we are almost invariably supporting some type of abusive labor practices or environmental degradation.  So while we are often powerless to change this system, though we must attempt, we also seek to live more simply and accept and reuse the items that society has thrown away and rejected.

We must realize that we are the rich oppressors James warned against.  We’ve done a good job blinding ourselves to these problems.  However, we’ve discovered that at the judgment scene, ignorance will not be an acceptable plea.  Jesus told us in Matthew 25, that claiming ignorance to the suffering of those around us will still result in conviction.  If we are to live the call of the gospel, we must accept that it involves letting go of our money, and especially our convenience and free time.

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