Sweatshops

How many slaves work for you?

Screen shot 2011-09-23 at 1.52.01 PMThe Slavery Footprint campaign launched Thursday (Sept. 22), which also happened to have been the 149th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, with the goal of personalizing "the issue of modern slavery by providing people with an assessment of just how much their lifestyle depends on forced labor -- and the steps they can immediately take to help end it."

By following this LINK I was able to plug in some basic information about myself and my lifestyle -- where do I live, do I own or rent, how many children do I have, have many diamonds/leather shoes/electronic gizmos do I own, what are my eating habits, what's in my medicine cabinet, etc., -- and in just a few minutes received the upsetting news that, according to the Slavery Footprint campaigns diagnostics, 52 slaves "work for me."

Where's Your Cross Made?

“Jesus, take pity on me! I’m going to die of exhaustion,” exclaimed a Chinese factory worker after a 19-hour shift, according to a recent report by the National Labor Com­mittee. In the report titled “To­day Workers Bear the Cross,” U.S.-based churches and Christian retailers are accused of selling crucifixes made by slave labor in China. The report focuses on the Junxingye sweatshop factory in southern China, which employs mostly young women paid 26.5 cents per hour—less than half of China’s legal minimum wage.

The Association for Christian Retail, which represents 2,055 member stores and suppliers, stated that claims of sweatshop labor used to make their products are “unfounded and irresponsible.” How­ever, NLC executive director Charles Kernaghan said in an interview on Democracy Now! that the NLC traced serial numbers on the crucifixes by using production orders smuggled from the factory by Chinese workers. “The decisions we make in our congregations about goods we purchase and services we hire too often make ‘cheap’ the ultimate value,” Kim Bobo, director of Inter­faith Worker Justice, told Sojourners.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2008
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What Would Yeshua Wear?

American business leader Adam Neiman, founder of Bienestar International, which produces union-made, sweatshop-free apparel under the No Sweat label, has started a fair trade clothing business in Bethlehem with Palestinian Christians and Muslims. He was interviewed by Sojourners associate editor Rose Marie Berger in November 2006.

Sojourners: What got you started on this project?

Adam Neiman: Well, it was really serendipity. This young man, Joe Turner, wanted to import fair trade T-shirts into England. He heard there was a union factory in Bethlehem, and he called me up for advice. I said, "My God! We just answered the question 'What would Jesus wear?'" I arranged to meet him and the factory owner [Elias Ibrahim Alarja, the Palestinian-Christian owner of Arja Textile Co.] in Bethlehem to see if we could do business.

Sojourners: How did Alarja respond to your offer to work with them on producing fair trade organic cotton T-shirts for export?

Neiman: I arrive. We talk. He wants to do business. But he's confused. He doesn't get how I can turn his problem into an opportunity. He's sitting on a gold mine. But also everyone over there is severely traumatized.

Sojourners: How many people are employed in the factory, and what does "unionized" mean in the Palestinian context?

Neiman: There are about 70 people working there. First of all, they don't have collective bargaining yet, so they have an individual contract. All the workers are members of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions. While I was there Shaher Saed, the PGFTU general secretary, came to meet with us. He drove through six hours of roadblocks from Nablus to Bethlehem.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2007
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New and Noteworthy

Real Re-Creation
Instead of fighting to find a "break" in our packed weeks for some spirit-filled rest, Norman Wirzba's Living the Sabbath calls us look to the Sabbath as a divinely inspired discipline that frames and orders the daily decisions of our work, home, and worship lives. A practical guide to finding new routines that heal and challenge us to grow in our faith. Brazos Press

Truly Blue Jeans
The rapid growth of China's economy is often noted, but rarely are the personal stories of the workers who fuel it. Filmed clandestinely, China Blue follows the life of 17-year-old Jasmine, right, as she moves from her agricultural village home to work at a blue jean factory in the city. The hour-long documentary poignantly reveals the human price we pay for "cheap" labor. Airs April 3 on PBS. Bullfrog Films

Heavenly Harmonies
African Spirit, the latest album from the critically acclaimed Soweto Gospel Choir, solidifies their standing as musical purveyors of infectious joy. While gospels and spirituals such as "Hosanna" and "Somlandela" ("I Will Follow") are still their forte, this 19-song collection includes a couple unexpectedly wonderful versions of popular songs, such as Bob Dylan's "Forever Young." If you're in need of music that inspires, this blend of African gospel and familiar songs in English will hit the spot. Shanachie

Who's There?
In Knocking, filmmakers Joel Engardio and Tom Shepard examine the often misunderstood—and mocked—faith of Jehovah's Witnesses. Despite the belief among adherents that civil involvement compromises the total worship of God, their record number of Supreme Court victories has done more to expand civil liberties for all Americans than perhaps any other group. A fascinating look beyond the stereotypes. Airs May 22 on PBS. www.knocking.org

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Sojourners Magazine April 2007
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Blessing the Hands That Harvest

Bumper stickers found in many college dormitories and church parking lots during the recent boycott of Taco Bell featured a Spanish-speaking Chihuahua—playing off the chain’s ads—turning down the fast- food chow to demand a penny more per pound for tomato pickers.

Heading the campaign was the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farm worker-led organization based in Immokalee, Florida, with more than 2,500 members, most of whom are Latinos, Haitians, and Mayan Indians. The nearly four-year boycott put worker concerns—low wages, poor working conditions, and discrimination—in front of many consumers and led to an agreement with Yum! Brands, Taco Bell’s parent company.

The campaign is one of several recent examples of tapping into the power of consumers. Through education, boycotts, and other methods, farm workers can make those who eat the products they grow and pick aware of the conditions they experience—and ask for their help in changing those conditions.

“The life of an agricultural worker is one of exploitation,” said Lucas Benitez, a worker and organizer with the coalition who came to the U.S. from Mexico as a teenager. Farm laborers work long hours, with no benefits, health care, or overtime pay, he said. “The imbalance of power is tremendous.”

The agreement reached by the coalition and Yum! Brands established important precedents of increasing wages coming down the supply chain and involving workers in the monitoring of conditions in the fields, said Brigitte Gynther, an organizer with the coalition. The change for workers has been immediate, Benitez said, after more than 20 years of receiving the same salary. Each week, he said, “depending on how much they harvest, they receive between $15 and $40 more.” Also essential, Gynther said, are the safeguards against what the coalition believes to be inhumane working conditions the pickers have suffered.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2006
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Best Practices: Changing Clothes

No Sweat apparel has a strict dress code: union-made only. Founded in 2000 as a subsidiary of the social start-up Bienestar International, the No Sweat label is a casual clothing line produced entirely by independent trade unions worldwide. The brand relies on direct, Internet-based marketing for distribution, which saves on advertising and makes possible a competitive product and living wage.

No Sweat's long-term objective is to own and operate most of its business in "model factories," which are located in free trade zones in the developing world where union shops can serve as catalysts for change. No Sweat is already outsourcing to a unionized widows' cooperative in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where they hope to discourage a new wave of sweatshops while simultaneously stimulating the region's unstable economy. Sounds to us like a fashion statement.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2003
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Under the Heel of Business

1997 I was part of a group of U.S. women traveling in the mountains of Haiti to meet with women from the village of Medor. We were exploring the establishment of partnerships between U.S. sponsors and Haitian women interested in starting small businesses. Each woman spoke of selling salt, oil, thread, flour, or other commodities that were part of daily life.

When asked why they wanted to start a small business, a young Haitian woman gave an answer I will never forget. "I want to start this small business so I can feed my small children a meal each day," she said. In the stunned silence, we asked what she does now. "Now I feed my children a meal two or three times a week. The rest of the time they chew sugar cane so they will not feel hungry." Any attempt to understand "business ethics" must be anchored in this woman’s reality.

In the years since the end of World War II, the world has seen the local economies of individual nations transformed into an increasingly interwoven fabric: global finance and a global economy. We read about corporate mergers, takeovers, buy-outs, and conglomerates. Success is measured by the billions of dollars "earned" by a corporation and its shareholders, or by a country’s gross national product, or by the inflation rate. All of this affects the complex relationships between companies and the countries in which they operate.

Yet rarely do we read about the effects of the globalization of the economy on individual countries as a whole, or on groups of people within a country. This lack of attention to the effects of globalization on individuals and communities serves to mask many of the global economy’s negative effects.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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Economic Justice 101

On June 10, 1999, Harvard Yard overflowed with more than 6,000 graduates, their families, and professors. Raucous chants and victory yells mingled with the speeches and solemn conferral of degrees; banners and balloons festooned the grandiose buildings. As the ceremony progressed, however, another type of banner appeared, trailing an airplane that circled above the yard: "Harvard Needs a Living Wage."

The Harvard Living Wage Campaign agitated through the year for a living wage for all university employees, particularly security guards. For many of the students participating, this was their first taste of "activism." While Harvard’s community service programs have long been a mainstay of campus life, attempts to change the campus’s economic conditions at a systemic level have been sparse.

But such efforts are now growing, and not just at Harvard. In March, Duke became the first university to require that all clothing bearing the university logo must be produced according to a "code of conduct." The code includes 10 resolutions vital to fair labor, including a living wage and benefits, reasonable hours and overtime compensation, safe working conditions, elimination of child or other forced labor, and protections of worker rights and dignity. The code is advocated by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a network of activists on dozens of campuses nationwide.

Unlike many off-campus campaigns, student movements tend to link the living wage and sweatshop issues. These campaigns recognize that opposing sweatshops means providing for reasonable wages, if apparel workers are to receive fair treatment and compensation for their work.

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A Resurrection of Campus Activism

This was supposed to be the apathetic generation. Tell that to H. Scott Althouse, a recent graduate of Eastern College in Pennsylvania, who started an "Earthkeepers" club to promote environmentalism and global stewardship.

Or mention it to Dennis Markatos, whose organization "SURGE" at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is taking on issues from closing the Army’s School of the Americas to stopping sanctions against Iraq to protesting the working conditions of manufacturers of college logo apparel.

Or talk to Stephanie Wyatt, who just completed a yearlong internship at Virginia Tech’s Baptist Student Union, where she came at social justice from a biblical point of view.

Contrary to the generally held view that today’s college students are isolated, individualistic, and concerned only with their Internet passwords and resumes, social justice activism is thriving on campuses around the country.

But this is not their parents’ Vietnam War protests, civil rights sit-ins, or mass demonstrations. Instead, it’s e-mail list serves, internships, volunteerism, and letter-writing.

Instead of the cohesive, radical national movement of their parents, today’s student activists are straddling the line between global and local problems, trying to discover where their generation fits in the struggle for justice and peace. Many of them are coming to activism from the perspective of their religious faith—and others are not—but all have a sense of urgency that for the first time in decades, some say, is causing U.S. college students to mobilize, organize, and act together.

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