Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Costly Bargain

The mound of clothes on my bed horrifies me.  I really need to hang them up and do laundry instead of scooping them to the foot of the bed so I can climb under the covers at night.  But that's beside the point.  I'm horrified for reasons beyond my messy room.  I just checked the tags of 20 or so articles:

Made in China.
Made in Pakistan.
Made in Hong Kong.
Made in India.
Made in Vietnam.
Made in Taiwan.
Made in Guatemala.
Made in Thailand.

I'm afraid I've been ruined...again.

First, it was my awakening to the billion dollar sex-slave industry where women (even men) and children are bought and sold for sex and money.  This has me alarmingly aware of my vocabulary, the movies I watch and the jokes I once tolerated about "pimps" and "sluts" and "prostitues."  I have a heightened awareness for those lacking safe, viable economic options who are forced into prostitution simply to care for their children and feed their families.  I weep over movies like "Taken," and "Pretty Woman."  I have an affinity for products made by women who have escaped the industry.  I began purchasing thoughtful gifts and advocating for these ladies every chance I could.  I claimed the phrase "with greater knowledge comes greater responsibility" as my own by genuinely trying to use what I've seen to educate others.

Much to my dismay, I was blind to a different type of slavery until this year.  I've been bragging about bargains and relishing in my comfortable consumerism for far too long.  And I'm embarrassed to admit I've justified so many of my purchases.

I have found myself uttering the following:
At least it was on sale.
Others have more.
We have a small house, so I can't have thaaaat much stuff.
I have less than *insert more fortunate person's name here*

So, when I started working with Noonday Collection, I just had to change my shopping habits.  Especially after reading article upon article about the factory collapse in Bangladesh.  The factory that produces cheap clothes for American consumers, catering to our "Is it on sale?" shopping mentality.

Here I was, made so aware of people working in SAFE working conditions, creating AFFORDABLE things, that tell BEAUTIFUL stories of hope and redemption through Noonday Collection.  In between placing orders from customers and advocating for families living in poverty, I was drowning in my own heap of corruption and consumerism evidenced by the pile on my bed.  Not to mention, crying over images like these:

 Here, family members cover their noses from the stench of death as they try to identify corpses recovered from the collapse.

 This woman was recovered ALIVE after 17 days of being buried in the rubble.

This couple was found dead, embracing each other in the rubble after the factory collapsed.

And to think THIS reality is behind most of the clothes on my bed, whether they were produced in Bangladesh or not.  I am part of the problem and I am so not okay with that.  My spending and bargain-hunting habits have contributed to a corrupt society of "saving money" at the expense of 1000+ deaths.

My shopping habits have been frozen.  I'm petrified to purchase anything that was made from forced labor, yet I know I can't and won't be able to avoid it all.  I'm second-guessing my new camera purchase (happy birthday to me)... and I'm almost sick when I think about the hands who made it and the working conditions in which it could have been produced.

I don't know about you, but I can NOT keep buying what I've been buying without knowing it was ethically produced.  The tension I'm facing is moving me to a place of action which is what I implore of ALL my friends and family members.

I read this article from Relevant Magazine when I first learned of the collapse a month ago and it's haunted me ever since:
Evangelicals are excellent at organizing boycotts and protests, or, in the case of Chick-fil-A, massive showings of ideological and consumer power. But it seems that Christians are slow to speak clearly and loudly against atrocities like this one. Evangelicals once attempted to boycott Disney for offering health benefits to the same-sex partners of employees. But with Disney items found in the rubble at Tazreen (it is a small world, after all), will Christians speak up? Will they to leverage their considerable cultural and financial capital on behalf of those for whom families now grieve? Does the professed Christian faith of the Walton family cover the fact that their everyday low prices are tainted with the ashes of the poverty-stricken mothers and fathers who produce them? Does it simply sound too risky for evangelicals to insist upon laws and upon consumer habits that protect the life and the flourishing of the already-born, whether within our borders or across the globe? Have evangelical political commitments become so circumscribed that we cannot discern, much less name, the moral outrage of poor people dying so that rich people can become richer?
If those Bangladeshis were all still in their mothers’ wombs they would have been deemed worthy of concern by evangelicals in this country. However, by being born they disqualified themselves from such consideration. 
We must advocate for the lives and flourishing for all people at every stage of life, including those to whom we've outsourced our jobs. This isn't just being globally aware or even mindful. It's simply decent. Simply Christian.
Where are we, Christ followers, in these factories?  Are we shopping the sales and feeding the demand for cheap labor and blue light specials?  Or are we using our voices to speak up for the voiceless and demand a better way?  There are 27 MILLION people working as slaves today.  That's more slaves than at any other time in history.  That number alone should make us abandon our old spending habits

I commit to spending the year leading up to my 30th birthday (and beyond) on behalf of the oppressed.

Spending less, giving more thoughtfully, advocating more passionately.

We, as consumers, and ESPECIALLY as Christians, have a responsibility to use our purchasing power for good.  Where we spend our money communicates our values in the marketplace.  If we continue to spend money on things that are produced by forced labor, we are devaluing our brothers and sisters and saying that our saved pennies are more important than their spent lives.

It's not going to be easy, but most important things aren't a breeze and this is something I'm committed to wrestling with from here on out.  I hereby commit to:

  1. Buying less.  I am struggling to draw a line between wants and needs.  Our consumeristic society blurs these lines and I am going to fight it.  I definitely do not need anything that was made by slaves.  As it is, I have 50-some slaves working for me based on what is already in my humble abode.  Gross.  How many are working for you?
  2. Purchasing second-hand clothing/shoes/etc.  Used is better than new because, if only by a little bit, it keeps me from perpetuating the corrupt industry by demanding new things.  I vote every day with every dollar I spend, because how I spend my money communicates my values.  
  3. Refusing to buy new clothes unless they are fair-trade certified.  This calls for drastic measures at Target... so I've already created a detour to avoid the Target clothing section because their stuff is so tempting...and so cheap.  See the problem?
  4. Publishing a list of fair trade resources to encourage others to purchase ethically produced items.  (I already have suggestions for clothing, prescription glasses, and gifts.)
  5. Encouraging the church to evaluate our spending habits. I'm talking fair-trade chocolate at Halloween, ethically-produced summer camp t-shirts, etc.  Imagine what this could communicate to our kids and our families and the WORLD.
What is it going to take for us to speak up?  We cannot wait for another collapse, another fire, another... Are you with me?

Isaiah 58: 6-12 
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.


Anonymous said...

So true & i feel strengthened by your words and called to further my efforts:)

Anonymous said...

Wow!! Im inspired to shop less and make a difference!! I feel guilty. For all the stuff i have that is made by slaves!!! God forgive me for my ignorance!! I will start shopping fair trade from now on! Thank you for speaking up!!!

Anonymous said...

yes, yes, & yes.

but I struggle with the idea of removing income from these factory workers in the name of condemning their conditions. In so many cases, these poor jobs are the best they can do. Take that away and you are starving their children. I'm not saying don't worry about it, but that it is a complicated intertwined problem. I agree with you that a vital step is knowing (not guessing) who is an isn't sourcing ethical products. Keep it up! It's a great song you are singing!


Christina Grace @ The Evangelista said...

I am SO with you! Just recently, I was overwhelmed with guilt, thinking of all of the poor men, women, and children (!) who made my clothes and the Holy Spirit convicted me right then and there. The conclusions I came to about what needed to change in my life in terms of my attitude towards spending are almost *exactly* the same as yours! AND I'm also 29 and wanting this year leading up to 30 to be different; I realized that I was turning a blind eye to my consumerism because I was afraid to let go and give ALL of my decisions, including financial, to Jesus. This means big changes for my own blog, which up to this point has been mostly about personal style, but I'm hoping that even if my readers aren't at the place of conviction yet, that my example will plant a seed.

I'm so happy I stumbled across your blog (through Let's Be Fair) and Noonday Collection! Will definitely be linking to both on The Evangelista. :)

Dus of Cuddly Cacti said...

really wonderful post!! would you be interested using the first part as a guest post on my blog? I'd love to remind my readers of these things since I always make a huge effort to only shop secondhand or handmade for this very reason. My husband and I were in fact talking about this very thing, that it frustrates us so much to see christians heading to the malls all the time and not caring for the people making their clothes, their lives, and then of course the environmental effects on the only planet we have. Do you follow Justic Pirate's blog? I just left a pretty long comment on her post about that so I won't ramble longer here, but wonderful post, way to take a stand and also put yourself out there admitting the sources of your pile of clothes.
Cuddly Cacti
Mitla Moda

Julie said...

I loved hosting my trunk show. I had it at a local coffee shop. My friends and I enjoyed visiting, drinking coffee, trying on all of the Noonday jewelry and ordering our favorites for ourselves and as gifts. Everyone felt so good to be able to help disadvantaged people while being blessed with beautiful, quality products. I highly recommend hosting a show of your own!