By Her Sewing Machine (Ellie Van Houtte) / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0I can't stop thinking about the recent garment factory collapse in Bangledesh. Simply devastating. It is crushing on so many levels and for so many reasons. Devastating on a physical level with the crumbling of a building in a community that doesn't have the proper resources to effectively deal with this kind of destruction, devastating for the workers who were forced to work in unsafe working conditions and now devastating for the community and family members that are left to clean up the rubble, the broken lives, and missing pieces. It has been crushing for me spiritually, because it has caused me to question, Am I at fault or can I be held partly responsible for the garment factory collapse?
Photo by Sharat ChowdhuryThis has been a difficult revelation for me over the past few days because, I believe the answer is yes, even thought I wasn't directly involved in any aspect of the building collapsing, nor had I ever even seen the building, nor I have never even been to Bangladesh.
photo by joiseyshowaaAnd as soon as the list of the companies who were purchasing products from this factory came out (JC Penney; Cato Fashions; The Children's Place; The Dress Barn; Benetton; Primark) I read through them and thought ok, I don't regularly buy clothes from any of these places, so I am in the clear, right? But my conscious kept telling me, no you aren't in the clear. And the truth is I am not. Neither are you...we all play a role in the economy that produces and perpetuates these types of factories, unsafe working conditions, and unfair wages, simply by consuming the products it produces. True, the stores I typically buy from weren't listed as culprits in this case, but it's a safe bet that just down the block, there's a similar factory, with similar working conditions, similarly atrocious wages and all in the name of cheap buys for westerners. The CNN News headline captured the problem in only a few words, "Cheap clothes lead to danger and tragedy". The rich people of the world's desire and economic pull to have cheap clothes as conveniently as possible creates these kinds of conditions, AND, our disinterest in caring or wanting to know what the real price of these clothes allows these types of structures to thrive. We don't want to know that the average worker in the garment industry in Bangladesh makes between 10 and 30 cents an hour, in buildings without windows, fire escapes, or emergency exits (CNN). And we don't want to see these pictures, or read these stories, which put real faces and real hands behind the clothing we wear. We just want to look really cute in our sweet new $22 t-shirt, that we will be replacing in the next 6 months for the latest new style. It is easy to ignore the realities and justify our choices by looking around and saying, "but everyone is doing it". It is true, everyone is. But that doesn't make it right, and it certainly doesn't mean we should do it too.
Is it possible that as people of God, He might be calling us to something different? After all He says in Isaiah 1:17, "Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow."I recently read an article on Relevant, called The Socially Acceptable Sin, by Jason Todd . Jason claims that, "At its simplest, gluttony is the soul’s addiction to excess. It occurs when taste overrules hunger, when want outweighs need." When we look at American consumerism, it is gluttonous, our wants really out weigh our needs, especially when it comes to clothes. Not to mention most of us under the age of 60 don't have an understanding of real "need". We tend to have more clothes than we can wear in a week, maybe even a month.
Is the garment factory collapse a metaphor for our life?And why we need to slow down, look at the cracks in our lives, take the time to think about them, why they are there and what needs to be done about them. And then start fixing them. Do we as Christ followers need to stop bowing to the cultural norms of our 1st world lives and observe the demands of our God, who calls us much more:
To share and perpetuate His love to the world with everything we have, including our purchases.So, let's not wait for the next headline grabbing story to change how we follow our awesome God. Let's take a few more minutes and think through what we are buying, why we are buying it, and what our purchases show the world. Realize that buying something because its cute and cheap might even be sinful, when we consider the ramifications behind its production. We need to consistently make different choices. We can choose a product because it is fair trade and hand made by a person who is receiving a fair wage for their work. We can choose to use our financial positions to support products that connect with ministries with the goal of giving life, not taking it. And that is something beautiful. Something that may take a little more time and purpose on our end, which is a hard change to make in this age of convenience, but a choice that is so worth making when we consider that this age of convenience will soon end and eternity will be knocking at our doorstep. I will be the first to admit, that this type of change is not easy but it is possible! It doesn't have to happen over night either, it can start slow, make the goal of researching and know the story behind one thing you purchase each week. I think you will find that you like knowing more about the products you buy and the stories behind them and that you love feeling like you are making a positive impact with your money. So my challenge for you this week is to try to buy one thing in a different and beautiful way. Here are some resources to get you started: Above is a free little notecard I made that you can down load, print, and keep in your wallet or by your computer (if you are an on-line shopper like me) for a little encouragement when you are about to make your purchases. Click here to download and save the PDF file. Consumers in Christ, Shopping Directory - This is a long list of smaller organizations that are making beautiful products that provide livelihoods for the producers and support awesome Christian ministries (ok this is a little plug for ourselves, as this is the non-profit we are working on starting :) it is still very much a work in progress, please excuse the typo's as many things were lost in uploading and we are still trying to fix them). Free 2 Work, The Story Behind the BarCode - This site is amazing and the work are doing to provide consumers with information on how products relate to modern-day slavery is truly awesome. If you really want to learn block off an hour to read through this website and become informed about the policies and practices of many large corporations. If you have less time, download their app and start scanning bar codes to see what you can instantly know about where and how the products you are about to buy are produced. Pure Charity - This one is sort of a catch22. In a perfect world we wouldn't have to shop at big chain stores and could purchase products directly form the producers and know all the details about where they came from and how the profits are used. But we don't live in that world yet, and I get that sometimes your kiddos just need underwear. So, the next best thing we can do is sign up for Pure Charity to help direct where some of those profits go.
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