“I am shocked to learn that many of them earned just $US 40.00 a month. This is called slave labor.”
Pope Francis in Rome on May, 01, 2013 voicing sympathy for Bangladeshi garment workers
As I entered in the beginning of this week, I started thinking about what my pastor in the church I attend said few months ago that the root of many problems in our lives is greed. One of the conclusions I have come to is that greed leads us to have a life out of balance.
Pope Francis’ statement made me reflect on my daily activities and also about all the atrocities happening in our world nowadays. I thought specifically of the collapse of the clothing manufacturing center in Bangladesh that occurred in May, killing more than 400 people. The tragedy has produced some different responses from Western apparel retailers and brands that obtained goods from factories inside the building with several retailers seeking to minimize any ties they had to factories inside the building, Rana Plaza. Other companies have been quick to acknowledge their ties to those garment suppliers — and have pledged to contribute to a fund to help families of the victims. Representatives of two dozen retailers and apparel brands met outside Frankfurt a few weeks ago to discuss what can be done to improve factory safety in Bangladesh. Opinions diverge regarding whether those companies would agree to the financial commitments needed to ensure safety at the more than 4,000 garment factories in Bangladesh. The issue had not been resolved as of July, 24th.
It is interesting that the retailers and apparel brands in question come from rich, Western nations. Despite their “humanitarian” efforts to right the wrong of the Bangladeshi tragedy, it seems that the primary objective of these enterprises is what mainstream economics call “profit maximization.” This goal assumes that we, human beings, are rational individuals pursuing our self-interest. It is clear that most of these companies are not interested in ensuring safety for the workers; their economic objectives are very disconnected from well being of the Bangladeshi working community.
The seduction of “economic growth” is what causes the disconnect with, at the deepest level, our compassion for the well being of our fellow man. Hiring Bangladeshi workers at a very low rate, allows these companies to maintain a profitable bottom line, which can lead to a better economic situation for the citizens of the Western countries. But what about the well-being of people in Bangladesh? Is the well-being of people in Western nations more valuable than of those in poorer nations? This, my friends, is life out of balance.
It is time for us to wake up and look at Jesus, our role model of a life of balance. Only looking at Christ will we be willing to respond to the needs of creation and those of our neighbor and see people for their true value (which, by the way, has noting to do with anyone’s bottom line). The issue here is a disconnection between what we buy from and who produces it. If we just buy stuff and have no information about who produces the product, how it is produced, and the conditions under which it is produced, then no change will occur. It is our duty to educate ourselves to make informed decisions.
Bartholomew, the Archbishop of Constantinople of the Orthodox Christian church once posed the question:
“How prepared are we to sacrifice our excessive lifestyles in order for others to enjoy the basic right to survive?”
Again, richer nations have been better off at the expense of poorer nations because there is a disconnection between consumption and production. We need to be prepared to respond to changes in the status quo. In order to do it, we need to be informed about the world around us.
Besides getting information, what is the next step? As a Christian, I would say that I have to cite Bartholomew again:
“The transformation of the heart can and must lead to the transformation of society.”
We will only act differently, if we let out lives be transformed by Christ. Transforming society means act in community. If there is no community, there is oppression or domination like what happened in Bangladesh. As people get more aware of the situation, there is a responsibility to act towards social justice and for the well-being of the people in our global community.
My hope is that we make the words of I john 3:18-19 become true:
“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence.”
 Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (2008). Encountering the mystery: understanding Orthodox Christianity today. Doubleday: New York. 252p.