By Britni D’Eliso —
I have 36 slaves working for me.*
In order to provide the clothing, food, technology and hygiene products that I currently own and use daily, 36 people have suffered through inhumane working conditions to create products that meet my needs, in effort to potentially earn a small pittance to feed and care for their families.
For the past eight years, I have intentionally educated myself about unfair labor practices and the role that the average American plays in perpetuating the atrocity of slave labor. Despite investing time, energy and effort into gathering this information and working to adjust my lifestyle, I still have 36 people sacrificing their quality of life so that I can improve mine. And that’s 36 too many.
There is a travesty of social injustice happening, across the world and in our own closets. “On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed. 1,138 people died and another 2,500 were injured, making it the fourth largest industrial disaster in history…There were five garment factories in Rana Plaza all manufacturing clothing for big global brands. The victims were mostly young women.” ** And this is certainly not how Jesus intended his children to treat each other. We are here to demonstrate compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience to one another, out of obedience and honor to our Savior who established the ultimate example of loving others. And we are specifically instructed to extend this grace to “the least of these,” which undoubtedly includes the young women and children working in egregious conditions in effort to survive.
Consider the instruction Paul provides in Colossians chapter 3:
“…since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Christ is all, and is in all. Christ is in me, is in you, and is in the resilient and beautiful woman spending hours a day in Cambodia, literally slaving away to create clothing that you or I will purchase months later with the bulk of the profit going to the middle-man company or into our own pockets in the form of “getting a great deal.” What a contrast to consider clothing ourselves in forgiveness, love and unity, rather than clothing marked by injustice and inequality. And in this way we allow peace to reign, with human value and worth being restored and Christ’s body being made whole again.
Akin to the topics of racism, animal cruelty and other social justice issues, feeling shame and regret does nothing to instigate change or promote justice. So these words are not meant to be condemning or to invoke shame that just further stifles action. We are now informed and thus equipped to make different choices. We most definitely have the ability to determine how we choose to purchase materials throughout our day to day lives. And even more, we have the freedom to adjust our supposed level of “need,” to pursue simple, minimalist lives that can have less negative impact on the lives of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
So what are the first steps? Throughout my years of exploring this topic, I have found some effective strategies that have been sustainable for my family and have proven to moderate our use of slave-labor purchases:
-Consume less. Practice minimalist strategies and evaluate needs vs. wants
-Shop second-hand. Many household items and clothing can be thrifted and are perfectly functional, found at a local thrift store or online at websites such as www.thredup.com. Even if these items were originally made with slave-labor, buying them second-hand reduces the “demand” that keeps this industry going, and is more feasible for the average American family to afford.
-Gather friends for a clothing swap. Collect clothing you may not be ready to drop off at an unknown donation site, but wouldn’t mind seeing on a friend. Plan an evening with snacks, pool your clothing and swap away!
-Make your own (or ask your mom to make it for you)
-Save up for high quality purchases that will cost more upfront but will last longer and will truly help support a local or long distance artisan. Oliberte and Pact are two of my favorite fair-trade companies that often have sales.
-Say no to the “good deal” at your local department store. Recognize that your savings likely come at the cost of a brother or sister somewhere else in the world, and it’s just not worth it.
Find out how many slaves are working for you: http://slaveryfootprint.org