Monthly Archives: December 2016


Do Children Make Our Christmas Gifts?

December 12, 2016

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Learn

gifts_xmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

Thus begins Clement Clarke Moore’s Christmas classic. I have long loved this poem. My memories of Christmas as a child include midnight mass, and opening one present on Christmas Eve from my maternal grandmother: always a pair of pajamas. Then we (my siblings and I) went to bed until morning when, after Santa’s visit, we would open a mountain of gifts under the tree.

Such wonderful images and memories remain with me; hoping for a world where all children could have the same. However, my Christmas recollections have been jarred by another vision that I can’t get out of my head.

Recent news reports and investigations reveal anew the ongoing shame of child labor, all-too-prevalent instances of human exploitation, including children in Bangladesh and of Syrian refugee children in Turkey.  

Child workers at the small garment factory in Jakarta, Indonesia Photo: ©ILO/Asrian Mirza

Child workers at the small garment factory in Jakarta, Indonesia
Photo: ©ILO/Asrian Mirza

I recommend two articles in particular:

In and effort to supplement the meager household income of their parents some of those children are also victims of trafficking and modern-day slavery.

Most parents, like us, want their children to be in schools, but low wages for their parents are a good reason they are not. Our corporations need to be ever more vigilant around human exploitation in their supply chain. Amid the opaque relationships between corporations, contractors, and subcontractors, our retailers must work to insure that children have the gift of childhood. While they are trying to overcome child labor, it’s clear the problem persists.

As we gather around the Christmas tree in coming days, please, take a moment to recall those children in the supply chain who may have labored to make our Christmas clothes.

New Scorecard on Forced Labor in Apparel Sector

December 12, 2016

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Assess

Know the Chain scorecard

Know the Chain rankings for 20 companies

While every scorecard comes with a caveat that none are perfect, we here at The Human Thread think that this scorecard is very important. Know The Chain, a San Francisco-based company that works with businesses and investors (including the Interfaith Center for Corporate  Responsibility) on issues of labor abuse, ranked 20 large apparel and footwear companies based on their efforts to eradicate forced labor and human trafficking from their supply chains.

This study shines light on the apparel brands that are making the greatest efforts to address exploitation. On topm footwear giant Adidas scored 81 points out of 100. Among apparel companies, Gap Inc. leads the way, scoring 77 points out of 100. Swedish fast fashion behemoth H & M and Canadian athletic apparel retailer Lululemon tied for third on the list, both scoring 69 points.

The rankings employed a sophisticated methodology of seven areas of measurement. The average score was 46 out of a possible 100. Sadly, luxury brands including Hugo Boss, Kering (holding company of Gucci, among others) and Ralph Lauren scored much lower than fast fashion retailers like H&M, Inditex or Primark. Three companies scored less than 25 out of 100 points: China’s number-one shoe retailer Belle International Holdings (0), Chinese clothing manufacturer Shenzhou International Group Holdings (1), and Prada (9).

Two areas of particular concerns are under the study’s headings of “Recruitment” and “Worker Voice and Remedy.” On the latter topic, the rankings also underscore that only four companies on the survey were rated as efficiently magnifying worker’s voices to upper management, and only five companies were found to engage workers outside of the context of their workplace in a manner that gives them more voice.

In the area of “Recuitment,” a place of major risk in forced labor and trafficking, companies fall short in their recruitment practices. Only six companies require that no fees be charged during any recruitment process conducted throughout the supply chain, and only two companies encourage direct hiring of workers in their supply chains. Poor recruitment practices, including excessive fees, leave workers vulnerable and open to exploitation, particularly through debt bondage.

The report suggests that these fundamental areas that leave workers vulnerable have yet to be addresses in significant ways by the retailers.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), around 21 million people are victims of forced labor globally, with the apparel and footwear industry an ‘at-risk’ sector, especially as it is a rapidly growing field of employment. While in 2000 the global garment industry employed around 20 million workers, this has at least tripled to 60- 75 million workers in 2014, three-quarters of whom are women.

Again, recalling the caveat that no scorecard is perfect, Know The Chain based the study on “assessed information available on each company’s own website, as well as additional public disclosure that 80% of the companies provided in response to engagement questions.” The information used to compile each company’s rank was self-supplied by the companies that were ranked. Thus, the reliability – or lack thereof – of the information provided by the ranked companies is a critical factor in terms of gauging the ranking’s accuracy.

Know the Chain is an initiative led by Humanity United, and maintained through partnerships with the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Sustainalytics, and Verité,

The complete report can be found here: http://www.humanthreadcampaign.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/KTC_AF_ExternalReport_Final.pdf

St. Juan Diego: A Saint for Garment Justice

December 12, 2016

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Pray

St. Juan Diego reveals the tilma to the bishop

St. Juan Diego reveals the tilma to the bishop

Little is known about the life of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin before his conversion, but tradition and archaelogical and iconographical sources, along with the most important and oldest indigenous document on the event of Guadalupe, “El Nican Mopohua” (written in Náhuatl with Latin characters, 1556, by the Indigenous writer Antonio Valeriano), give some information on the life of the saint and the apparitions.

On December 9, 1531, when Juan Diego was on his way to morning Mass, he began to hear strains of beautiful music, and then the Blessed Mother appeared to him on Tepeyac Hill for the first of five occasions. She addressed Juan Diego by name, then dubbing him “el más pequeño de mis hijos,” (translated: the littlest of my children). The Virgin asked Juan Diego to go to the Bishop, Juan de Zumárraga, and to request in her name that a shrine be built at Tepeyac, where she promised to pour out her grace upon those who invoked her. The Bishop, who did not believe Juan Diego, asked for a sign to prove that the apparition was true. On 12 December, Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac. Here, the Blessed Mother told him to climb the hill and to pick the flowers that he would find in bloom. He obeyed, and although it was winter time, he found roses flowering. He gathered the flowers and took them to Our Lady who carefully placed them in his tilma (his mantle), and told him to take them to the Bishop as “proof”. When he opened his tilma, the flowers fell on the ground and there remained impressed, in place of the flowers, an image of the Blessed Mother, the apparition at Tepeyac.

The miraculous image, which is preserved in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, shows a woman with native features and dress. She is supported by an angel whose wings are reminiscent of one of the major gods of the traditional religion of that area. The moon is beneath her feet and her blue mantle is covered with gold stars. The black girdle about her waist signifies that she is pregnant. Thus, the image graphically depicts the fact that Christ is to be “born” again among the peoples of the New World, and is a message as relevant to the “New World” today as it was during the lifetime of Juan Diego.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

St. Juan Diego is a saint for garment justice for two main reasons. First, quite literally, his humble garment, the tilma, has powerfully been means of conversion for many people. Secondly, in St. Juan Diego himself we see God working mysteriously, powerfully within those who are most poor. Here in Advent, we are preparing ourselves for Christ’s birth. The Messiah was not born in a palace in a major capital of the world, but the Messiah was born to a poor family in a barn in a backwater province of the Roman Empire. In “El Nican Mopohua,” the Blessed Mother does not present herself to the powerful, politically, economically, or religiously, but instead presents herself to a poor native person. Her face, not European, but dark as a native, invites us to see God’s action and presence in the poor.

We might imagine anew the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, not to the privileged, but to her smallest, most forgotten children, garment workers earning but $4 an hour in Los Angeles, women working in a maquiladora in a free trade zone along the Rio Grande, or to a garment worker in a crowded factory in Bangladesh.

The Rev. David García, former rector of San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas, explains the intimate identification between Juan Diego and the Mexican people:

“Juan Diego’s story is our story. His hesitancy is ours in the face of being called to share the Good News and change our world. His feelings of nothingness are reflected in our sense of inadequacy against a society that puts us down at every turn. His call to take the message is our call to tell others that God wants things different, that God loves those who are poor and powerless, that God does not forget the sufferings of God’s people, and that God is with us on our pilgrimage through a hostile world.” (p. 22)

At its heart, this is a joyful, exuberant feast of “flor y canto,” flower and song. Before her first appearance, St. Juan Diego heard beautiful song and gathered miraculous flowers.  Let us not once again, like Bishop Juan de Zumárraga five centuries ago, turn away Juan Diego as he approaches us bearing in his tilma the precious gift of God’s great love for us all. As people of faith, let us embrace this feast with joy, heralding St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe as invitations to deepen our solidarity with those who are poor, those who are forgotten.

Prayer to St. Juan Diego
Saint Juan Diego, you are our first American indigenous saint. You who were chosen by Our Lady of Guadalupe as an instrument to show your people and the world that the way of Christianity is one of love, compassion, understanding, appreciation and respect for God’s creation, and, most of all, humility. You who we know is now in the Kingdom of the Lord and close to our Mother, be our angel and protect us, stay with us as we struggle in this modern life not knowing most of the time where to set our priorities. Help us to pray to our God to obtain the gifts of the Holy Spirit and use them for the good of humanity and the good of our Church.  And we ask Our Lady, who appeared to you as your Mother and Mother of all in our land, to wrap her mantle of protection around all migrant people. We beg for her love, compassion, help and protection on all immigrants who today experience great sufferings, sorrows, necessities and misfortunes. Amen

Georgetown Students Occupy President’s Office

December 12, 2016

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Act

(Photo from Facebook: Georgetown Solidarity Committee)

(Photo from Facebook: Georgetown Solidarity Committee)

This morning, students from Georgetown University occupied the office of university president, John J. DeGioia. According to the students’ press release (georgetown-usas-press-release):

twenty student activists at Georgetown University began an occupation of University President John J. DeGioia’s office demanding that the school’s administration refuse to renew their licensing contract with Nike. The students, led by members of worker solidarity organization Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC), a United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) affiliate, are vowing to stay in the President’s office until he takes action.

Recipient of Nike’s largest Air Jordan contract, Georgetown was notified in October 2015 of abuses of worker’s rights at the Hansae factory in Vietnam, a likely site for the production of Georgetown collegiate apparel. The violations, confirmed two days ago in a report by the Workers Rights Consortium, include work in extreme heat (factory temperatures above 90 degrees), inducing severe fainting. Additional abuses profiled in the report include “the systematic firing of pregnant workers, wage theft, and other unsafe working conditions.”Occupying the president’s office is a significant action that comes on the heels of more than a year of dialogue with the university administration. This is not the first attempt by the students to convince the university to change their practice:

  • An April 2016 article from The Hoya outlines the history to that point, referencing a letter from the President of Georgetown to Nike, not available to the public, that threatens Nike with a non-renewal of the contract if the code of conduct for licensees remains unsigned.
  • Professor John Kline published a letter to the editor last month asking why Nike was the only exception to the university’s code of conduct for licensees. Professor Kline, an expert in garment factories, has studied Alta Gracia, the world’s only living wage, unionized garment factory since 2009.
  • Here is the Worker Rights Consortium study of the Hansae factory that was released Tuesday. The first full paragraph on page two is critical as it notes how Nike has not facilitated access to factories to independently investigate claims from workers since October of 2015.

The timing of action from these students is critical as Georgetown’s contract expires on December 31. Even as the Vatican commits to “slave-proof” its supply chains, we do not want Georgetown to roll back its commitment to the rights of workers. Without going into all the specifics, the issue amounts to this: if Georgetown signs the agreement, without a commitment from Nike to the licensee code of conduct, then other Catholic universities with Nike licensing agreements (or with other companies) may follow suit in a way that would do grave harm to the rights of workers and roll back progress made in 2000 by an earlier generation of college students and university administrators.

Georgetown, which has acknowledged and repented its historical involvement in the slave trade, should not get renewed in any form of complicity in what Pope Francis has called “slave labor.” We admire the witness of solidarity of these university students, who, risking arrest, seek to stand with the workers who make the apparel that bears the name of their university. We see them living the highest ideals of a Jesuit education “women and men for others.” We, too, want their university put its words (the code of conduct for licensees) into action. While essential for any university, this is vital for a Catholic university. Georgetown is a leader in Catholic higher education, and we hope it will witness to its purported high standards. When students and student athletes wear Georgetown sportswear, we agree that they should be clothed in compassion, rather than exploitation.