There’s this myth I’ve been believing my whole life. This idea that if I don’t actively pursue this way or that way then I am completely neutral. Over these past few years I started traveling to a few developing countries and met some poor farmers. I saw that the food I was eating and the products I was purchasing were actually contributing to the systems of oppression and exploitation affecting millions around the world.
I never knew I wasn’t neutral. But now I know. And this is how I realized it fully.
After World War 2, America started excelling in many areas, and in particular one that changed it forever: Gloablization. As the Industrial Revolution swept through America, production and our economy started booming. People were getting into the business industry and many were getting rich. Once America was conquered, it was time to explore the vast business opportunities around the world, especially in countries that were ripe for the plucking. Business men flocked to developing nations around the world starting businesses and factories to be worked by cheap laborers and taking advantage of the abundant resources available.
With our supply-demand based economy, businesses were pumping out whatever products the people would buy. Whatever the people wanted, the factories were pumping out. With such cheap labor and the ability to ship products anywhere around the world, corporations were becoming incredibly successful rapidly and the consumers were happy.
For the first time Americans were able to buy whatever they wanted for incredibly low prices. Strawberries, bananas, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables were available all year long all throughout the country. It no longer mattered what was “in season” or not. If Michiganders wanted to eat pineapples in the wintertime, they now could.
By the 20th Century working Americans no longer spent hours working in looms making clothing, these jobs were given to workers overseas and then shipped to America. Because these international businesses were so new, restrictions and laws were not readily available nor easily enforced.
Corporations were so caught up in how to gain the largest profit, they began minimizing costs up and down the chain. Soon enough business integrity for the workers went out the window and the rise of sweatshops began.
What is a sweat shop? “A sweatshop is more than just a metaphor for a lousy job. Although there is no clear, single definition of the term, it generally refers to a workplace where relatively unskilled employees work long hours for substandard pay in unhealthy and unsafe conditions.” (http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/145)
Not only are millions of sweatshops operated by Americans around the world, they also exist in our own country. “The Department of Labor indicates that 50% of garment factories in the U.S. violate two or more basic labor laws, establishing them as sweatshops.” (http://www2.webster.edu/~woolflm/sweatshops.html)
As awful as the clothing industry is, it doesn’t stop there. This kind of business model is also happening elsewhere, especially with our food.
With Globalization, the food we buy in the grocery stores and in restaurants are now widely grown outside America generally in developing countries by poor farmers. So much of the food we consume every single day is grown by poor farmers who make less than $2 a day and are struggling to survive.
These farmers make such low incomes because all the money made from the food goes to the middle men (Western corporations) who do absolutely nothing but get rich, while the farmer’s get paid wages that are barely fit for survival.
But there is still hope. People are fighting to change this sad reality. One of these amazing changes is the Fair Trade Movement. Fair trade saw both of these problems and decided to do something about it. The coffee and chocolate industry are widely grown in developing countries by poor farmers and manufactured in sweatshops around the world.
So people decided that was enough and have started to create Fair Trade Agreements where the middle man is cut out of the system and farmers are able to make the wages they deserve for their hard work so that they can actually provide for their families.
Now there has been some chatter about how Fair Trade is not the perfect system, and they are absolutely correct. Fair trade is not perfect but those articles will also mention that is not because the system is exploited. Fair Trade is still on a journey of working out it’s kinks, but the more we support Fair Trade, the more those kinks will be able to work themselves out.
We live in a Supply Demand Society. Whatever we as people demand and purchase, our society will supply it for us.
–Our vote, our voice is in the way that we purchase. Whatever I buy, I am demanding. Every time I purchase a coffee that is not fair trade, I am declaring that it is okay to pay farmers harshly low wages so that I can drink cheap coffee. What I spend my money on, I am promoting.
It’s simple economics.
For so long I never once thought about this. I actually believed the lie that I was neutral. I wasn’t an activist or extremist. I also wasn’t promoting exploitation. I was simply in the middle– neutral.
But I have finally realized that I am not neutral. My whole life I have been participating in a system founded upon exploitation. I have been purchasing foods and buying products that use sweatshops, slavery, oppression and exploitation.
Every time I spend my money on those things, I am promoting them. I am declaring to the world that I approve of the exploitation to the poor and that I want more of that. I am demanding more oppression.
It’s time for me as a follower of Jesus to love and care for the poor around the world and even in my own backyard. With sweatshops and slavery rampant in America and around the world, I have to change the way I spend my money.
There are so many of our favorite companies are partaking in this corruption.
From a little research I have discovered big name companies and brands such as Reebok, Nike, Walmart, Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic/Old Navy/Gap, Guess, Hershey’s, etc. have been found with accusations for participating in these activities.
There are many more. It is no longer an excuse to be ignorant. Information and resources are at our fingertips. If we really believe the Bible and we really believe that Jesus loves the poor. If we really believe that God’s heart is to “see the prisoners set free and to loose the bonds of oppression” (Isaiah 58). Then we really have to change.
Is my fashion so important that I am willing to make thousands suffer for it? Is it so hard to change the way I eat?
I am either supporting exploitation or fighting it. We can make a difference. It is a LIE from the devil to believe that what we do doesn’t matter in the context of society.
Fair trade was started by one person and is now available all over America. It exists now because people started buying fair trade products.
Organic products weren’t in grocery stores 20 years ago, but now there are Organics sections in every large grocery store. Because people started buying organic food.
I can love the poor by the way I eat. I can love the poor by what I buy.
We were meant to be salt and light to this world.
Let us start one dollar at a time. Let us really love the poor.