Monthly Archives: October 2016


The Human Thread supports Trafficking Survivors Relief Act

October 10, 2016

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Advocate

stop_human_trafficking

The Human Thread has endorsed the bipartisan Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2016, which enables human trafficking victims to clear federal convictions from their records for crimes that traffickers forced them to commit.

Introduced on September 28, 2016 Congresswomen Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rob Portman (R-OH), this bill has been prioritized by the National Survivor Network. To read their press release on this legislation, click here.

This bill contains the following important provisions:

  • A person convicted of non-violent federal offenses may petition a court to vacate the arrests and/or convictions if the person’s participation in the offense was the direct result of having been a victim of trafficking;
  • If a court grants the motion to vacate, the court vacates the arrest and/or conviction, enters a judgment of acquittal, and expunges the record;
  • The trafficking victim’s identity is protected; no officer or employee may make public any document or image that identifies the victim; and
  • Specified procedural processes to ensure that trafficking victims can establish eligibility for this provision by providing certified criminal or immigration court proceedings or law enforcement records demonstrating that the individual was a victim of trafficking at the time they were charged with the trafficking-related offense. If this information is not available, other testimony and sworn statements can also establish eligibility as many trafficking victims will not have official documentation because of the nature of human trafficking crimes.

To read the full letter click here.

To read a factsheet about this legislation click here.

To read the full bill text click here.

Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

In the above photo, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, center, joins survivors of human trafficking as well as advocates Sunday as she announces a proposal called the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2016. An article about the event can be found here.

Pope Francis directs our gaze at Bangladesh

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Learn

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis, who has paid more attention than most to Bangladesh, is in the process of directing Catholics’ and the world’s gaze upon that nation.

Recall that Pope Francis was one world leader who called attention to the disaster at Rana Plaza. Pope Francis, vigilant of religious persecution, also voiced sorrow for the victims of the terrorist attack in Dhaka. Returning from Georgia and Azerbaijan, Pope Francis confirmed that he will visit Bangladesh in 2017. Then, on Sunday, he named Archbishop Patrick D’Rosario, C.S.C. a cardinal. Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country of almost 170 million people, has 350,000 Catholics, or just .2% of the population. It will be the second visit by a Pope to Bangladesh as Saint John Paul II visited in 1986.

The challenges posed in Evangelii Gaudium to go to the peripheries and in Laudato Si’ to care for our common home, many of the great themes of his papacy, are incarnated in Bangladesh. Among issues associated with poverty, the Pope’s visit to Bangladesh in 2017 will likely bring attention to workers’ rights, wages, and workplace safety in garment industry. The church in Bangladesh has done extraordinary work on behalf of the poor, but Pope Francis will bring that great work and the ongoing challenges to the attention of the rest of the world.

Fast Fashion and the Chase to the Bottom

October 10, 2016

Author: Frank Sherman

Category: Learn

fast_fashion

As I read a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Fast-Fashion Tricks Are on Display at Department-Store Chains, I became more concerned – not for Macy’s, Kohl’s and the Gap as they try to respond to fast-fashion rivals like Inditex SA’s Zara and Hennes & Mauritz AB’s H&M, but rather for their garment workers in China, Bangladesh and other developing countries. These brothers and sisters are already working 60-80 hours a week to earn a fraction of a living wage. How will this trend impact them?

Department-store chains are speeding up its supply chain to better catch popular fashion trends. The traditional model requires 15 months from design conception until goods arrive in stores, and nine months to reorder items that sell out. Fast fashion brands have dropped this turnaround time to as little as 3 months.

“The current model of loading up on inventory, and marking it down when it doesn’t sell is broken,” says Robert D’Loren, Xcel’s chief executive. “It’s a race to the bottom on pricing.”

How can H&M sell a dress for $15? A suit for $75? One way is volume. The per capita demand for clothing in the U.S. has increased by 400% since 1980! Where are all these clothes going after we move to the next fashion? Although many of us try to give them to charities, 85% end up in landfills. But there is also a human cost of this race to the bottom.

There is some pressure to improve wages. In June, Cambodia agreed to increase monthly wages from $128 to $140. Vietnam is discussing an increase of its minimum wage by 7.3% in 2017. South African cotton workers have seen an 8.25% increase in their wages. There are talks that the ASEAN region may try to introduce a regional minimum wage. But the workers’ voice is weak….and the fast fashion trend is much louder.

On the rare occasions that I go clothes shopping, I find it difficult to get the voice of HBO’s host John Oliver of Last Week Tonight out of my head: “You know why they are so cheap. You can no longer plead ignorance.”

Frank Sherman, Associate Director
Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment

St. Francis of Assisi: A Saint for Garment Justice

October 10, 2016

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Pray

Benozzo Gozzoli, Apsidal chapel, San Francesco, Montefalco

Renunciation of Worldly Goods

When brought before the bishop, Francis would brook no delay nor hesitation in anything: nay, without waiting to be spoken to and without speaking he immediately put off and cast aside all his garments and gave them back to his father. Moreover he did not even keep his drawers but stripped himself stark naked before all the bystanders. But the bishop, observing his disposition, and greatly wondering at his fervor and steadfastness, arose forthwith, gathered him into his arms and covered him with the mantle which he himself was wearing.
Thomas of Celano, Vita Beati Francisci (“The Life of Blessed Francis”; often called the “First Life”)

Born in Assisi in 1181 or 1182 to Pietro and Pica Bernardone, Francis was born into a world of wealth and opulence. His father was a cloth merchant, supplying cloth to Medieval versions of Ralph Lauren.

Francis went to war at age 20 and was taken prisoner for almost a year. He was released and became seriously ill, which began a major turn in his life. His conversion took some time and involved numerous moments. With his return to Assisi, a spiritual change commenced. Francis, like society in his time, had a repulsion of lepers, and an encounter with a leper changed his heart. In one renowned episode, he went to the tattered small church of San Damiano, where Christ on the cross came to life and told him: “Go, Francis, and repair my Church in ruins.”

The culmination of his conversion, perhaps, could be said to have happened when Francis’ father, Pietro, questioned his son’s generosity and servitude to the poor. While standing before the bishop of Assisi, Francis stripped off his clothes and renounced his paternal inheritance.

The image above portrays Francis’ renunciation. Consuming two thirds of the foreground with the townspeople, Pietro Bernardone carries his son’s clothes on his left arm, and holds a belt in his right hand. A narrow space separates him from Francis, who is seen at prayer. The bishop covers the saint with his vestment, underscoring the religious nature of the scene. The contrasting depiction of the father and son expresses the dramatic nature of their conflict, supported by the arrangement of two opposing groups of figures: a secular group and a religious one. The fresco’s explanatory inscription reads: QUALITER B. F. CORA(M) EPISCOPO ASISII REN(UNTIA)VIT PATRI HEREDITATEM PATERNAM ET O(M)NIA VESTIMENTA ET FEMORALIA PATRI REIECIT – “How St Francis renounces his father’s inheritance before the bishop of Assisi and his father, and throws his upper garment and hose down before his father.” Francis’ renunciation was a rejection of the consumer society that was represented in his father’s way of life. Going naked was his public commitment to enter into an entirely different way of life committed to his heavenly Father. In saying he would no longer call Pietro Bernadone his “father” on earth (which he did so for the rest of his life), Francis now entered into solidarity with all of the children of the one he would call “Our Father” in heaven.

Amid plaster of Paris depictions of St. Francis, we tend to lose something of the revolutionary and radical nature of his life. Quite literally, for St. Francis, his clothes were an obstacle to his radical call in following Jesus. For Francis, no dependable security was to be found in clothing, shelter, wealth, or fame. These were the things that might have kept him in the kingdom of this world and prohibited his access to the kingdom of heaven.

This evocative action by St. Francis of Assisi gives us much to consider. From his encounter with the leper, Francis said he felt mercy or compassion. The lepers of Francis’ day were those separated from society. Are those making our clothes separated from us as well? According to Pope Francis, such a degree of separation based on our consumerism creates indifference in a way that blots out compassion. While we may not be called to strip in the city square, we know as well that our clothes, how we treat and pay those who make them, and how our clothing harms the environment are obstacles in our discipleship and living in right relationship with God, with neighbor, and with creation. One simple step that does not require stripping before town and bishop is to take the St. Vincent Pledge. The pledge calls us to:

Pray for the cultivation of solidarity between the consumers of clothing with the people who produce them in order to create sustainable communities through a more just economy. Learn about and educate others on the real consequences (both negative and positive) of globalized supply chains, especially in the clothing industry. Assess how we — as individuals and in our families, faith communities and places of employment — are able to confront the ’globalization of indifference” in the clothing industry by taking greater responsibility for the unintended consequences of our behavior as consumers. Act to change our choices and behaviors as consumers to improve the lives of the people who make our clothing and other goods in the global economy. Advocate for Catholic principles, priorities, and values with retailers, brand owners and government bodies concerning the wages and working conditions of the people who make our clothing.

St. Francis understood that his conversion required him to change his relationship with everything, even his clothes. As we continue our campaign with Macy’s and Kohl’s, the example of St. Francis gives us much to consider.