Monthly Archives: February 2017


Preaching for Garment Justice: A Bulletin Column

February 02, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Pray

Field of lilies

Field of lilies

Capuchin friar Robert Wotypka wrote the following for his parish bulletin (St Ambrose Parish in Grosse Pointe Park/Detroit MI) for Sunday, February 26th, the 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Cycle A.

This poor friar was never a slave to fashion, but in the years before I joined the Saint Joseph province, when I worked in hotels and as a consultant, one could identify me as a fellow traveler. It simply wouldn’t do to check in or go to dinner in my dog-walking pants; no, it was pretty clear what togs were needed in the “right crowd and no crowding” set. Two reminisces, OK? There was the time Prince Charles came to stay at the five-star joint I worked at back in the 90s in NYC. When I saw how well his suit fit, that the buttons on his jacket sleeves actually buttoned, well, I felt – and probably looked – like the titular character in Shane shopping with the sodbusters in the general store, turning in my fringed buckskins for flannels and jeans. The other misty water-colored memory is from Hong Kong, at a Starbucks, where I often did my reports. Every patron’s entrance was like a runway show, from the door to the counter and back, and it was impressive.

Things are different now. A friar does dress to impress, at least that was the hope of Saint Francis. As our Capuchin Constitutions say, “Remembering that Saint Francis wore a penitential garment made in the shape of a cross, we, too, wear the habit as a reminder of conversion, a sign of consecration to God, and of belonging to the Order. In this way we also express our condition as lesser brothers, so that even the clothes we wear witness to poverty.” That’s voluntary poverty, to be clear, and that’s a whole other spool of thread, to be taken up in another post.

I’m needling on the topic of clothing because of today’s Gospel, Matthew Chapter 6, “The Lilies of the Field,” where Jesus urges us to depend on God and God’s generosity for needful things. It’s a call to whole body conversion that has to be life-giving, otherwise it would not have been proclaimed by the one who conquered death. Let me hem in on my point: my retreat from the fashion wars owing to lack of material, and my transition to thrift stores and other re-use modes, has been good for me and, I’d propose, good for the planet. The world grows too much cotton, a water- and pesticide-intensive crop that is heavily subsidized, and produces too much clothing, buoyed by branding and relentless ads. “Fast fashion,” the production and distribution model followed by the biggest global firms, creates involuntary poverty and immense waste. The call to embrace something different is a matter of life and death, in particular for people caught up in the clothing supply chain, as was shown in 2013 at Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh. To learn more, please check out an initiative from my province at http://www.humanthreadcampaign.org/. Thank you.

Editor’s note: And thank you, Bro. Robert, for your reflection!

Five Reasons to be Concerned About Our Clothes

February 02, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Learn

five-reasons

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis reminds us: “Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act” (#206). Five reasons, then, why we need a “fashion makeover”

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking, a form of modern slavery, is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 20.9 million people around the world. And no matter where you live, chances are it’s happening nearby. From the girl forced into prostitution at a truck stop, to the man discovered in a restaurant kitchen, stripped of his passport and held against his will. All trafficking victims share one essential experience: the loss of freedom. Specialists agree that more people are trafficked in the garment industry than any other industry. It can be disturbing to learn that things we take for granted in our daily lives—chocolate, clothes, coffee, cellphones–are frequently made under conditions that aren’t simply unjust, but that can only be described as slavery.

Care for Creation

In his Message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Pope Francis wrote:

As individuals, we have grown comfortable with certain lifestyles shaped by a distorted culture of prosperity and a “disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary” (Laudato Si’, 123), and we are participants in a system that “has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.” Let us repent of the harm we are doing to our common home.

Women’s rights: Wages and Violence

Today, a garment worker makes $68/ month in Bangladesh. Even adjusting for cost of living, the UN says that anyone under $2/ day is in extreme poverty. If these workers have dependents, they are in extreme poverty. Clothing today is cheaper than 1985. Cotton costs are up. Energy costs (to run the machines) are up. Wages are down as we offshored our garment manufacturing.

We know about a gender wage gap in the U.S. Women earn $.78 on the $1 of men. African-American women earn $.62. The single biggest driver on the global gender wage gap is the garment industry, overwhelmingly staffed by women.  As for violence, a July 2016 report revealed that one in seven women working in Indian garment factories suffered sexual abuse in the workplace. As victims often are reluctant to acknowledge sexual abuse, this number is low.

Living wage

The world’s only living wage, unionized garment factory is Alta Gracia in the Dominican Republic. Their salaries are triple neighboring factories. Almost every university bookstore sells some merchandise from them. Notre Dame’s “The Shirt” is made each year by Alta Gracia. Economist John Kline concludes that their success is not simply charity from bookstores and other merchandisers. They occupy space on racks and would be replaced by other more profitable merchandise if it did not sell. He argues, not that they will replace Nike, Under Armor and Adidas, but that these apparel lines have no reason for not paying a living wage.

minimum-wage

Christian Stewardship

We have five times more clothing today than 35 years ago. We prize bigger, walk-in closets to accommodate our clothes. Clothing purchased this year will have seven uses on average before being discarded by the purchaser. Our overflowing landfills aren’t the only obvious signs of a “throwaway culture.” The purchase of discardable clothing lends itself to thinking of the workers as disposable as well. Pope Francis often reminds us that our “throwaway culture” leads us to throwaway not only “things” but also relationships, people, beliefs, and even dreams.

The old notion of a “good buy” is that it is cheap and makes you look thin. A renewed notion: a “good buy” for us as Catholics has ethical content. How was it sourced? How does it care for creation? How were the workers treated in the making of this garment? How were they paid?

A PDF version of this post is available here: http://www.humanthreadcampaign.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/FiveReasons.pdf

A win for shareholder activism

February 02, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Act

Crosby

Today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an extended article about Fr. Mike Crosby and his efforts in corporate social responsibility. The article can be found here: For Milwaukee friar, win vs. ExxonMobil is biggest since ‘Joe Camel’.

Below is the press release from the ICCR:

SHAREHOLDERS WELCOME APPOINTMENT OF CLIMATE EXPERT TO EXXONMOBIL BOARD

Appointment of Susan Avery, atmospheric scientist, to board of directors responds to investor concerns regarding need for board with climate change competence.

NEW YORK, NY – Thursday January 26, 2017 – Members of the Interfaith Center and long-term shareholders of ExxonMobil were encouraged by Exxon’s decision yesterday to appoint a climate scientist to its board of directors.

In a company press statement yesterday, ExxonMobil announced that Dr. Susan K. Avery was elected to its board of directors, effective February 1, 2017. Avery, an atmospheric scientist, is the former president and director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Her appointment is responsive to  a long-standing request from shareholders to appoint a climate expert to its board.

For three years, led by the Midwest Capuchins, ICCR shareholders and other groups have filed a resolution calling on ExxonMobil to elect an Independent Director with Climate Change Expertise. Until now, the company has opposed this effort. Investors were informed of the election of Avery by company representatives in a phone call yesterday and requested a dialogue to discuss withdrawal of the resolution.

The lead proponent of the resolution, Fr. Michael Crosby of the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order and Executive Director of Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment, has helped to lead an ongoing shareholder campaign at ExxonMobil on climate-related issues  for nearly two decades.  Crosby made clear that he viewed the board appointment as a noteworthy breakthrough given the company’s early resistance to action on climate change.

Said Crosby, “We’ve seen Exxon’s gradual evolution from active denial of climate change to reluctant acknowledgement of its risks and now, its elevation in priority as an essential component of board management. Apart from the enormous environmental and social risks facing Exxon management, we, along with many other investors, believe a failure to adequately respond to climate risk disadvantages Exxon financially. This critical step demonstrates that the board recognizes the need for expertise in board discussions to address climate change.”

In its opposition statement to the same resolution on last year’s proxy the company argued against a climate specialist on the board “Because each director must possess a breadth of expertise and experience, setting aside a seat for an environmental specialist or other single-issue candidate who lacks other important attributes would, in our view, not be in the best interests of the Company or its shareholders because it would dilute the breadth needed by all directors to make informed decisions for the Company.”

Said Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management, who has helped lead engagements with ExxonMobil, “This action by the Board is encouraging for shareowners and we want to commend Exxon for this prudent and forward-looking decision. We are hopeful that Dr. Avery’s appointment will assist the company as it works to systematically embed climate risk into decision-making and address its implications throughout its operations and supply chain. Increasingly investors are calling for “climate competency” and a disciplined system of review and accountability in company boards.  New directors like Dr. Avery significantly strengthen such climate oversight.” 

About the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)
Celebrating its 46th year, ICCR is the pioneer coalition of shareholder advocates who view the management of their investments as a catalyst for social change. Its 300 member organizations comprise faith communities, socially responsible asset managers, unions, pensions, NGOs and other socially responsible investors with combined assets of over $200 billion. ICCR members engage hundreds of corporations annually in an effort to foster greater corporate accountability on questions such as climate change, corporate water stewardship, sustainable food production, human trafficking and slavery in global supply chains and increased access to financial and health care services for communities in need. www.iccr.org

St. Josephine Bakhita: A Saint for Garment Justice

February 02, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Pray

St. Josephine Bakhita

St. Josephine Bakhita

For many years, St. Josephine Bakhita was a slave but her spirit was always free and eventually that spirit prevailed. As a former slave, she is the patron saint for the victims of human trafficking. In honor of St. Josephine, please, take a moment for a simple gesture in her honor for all victims of human trafficking. Many things in our lives that make us comfortable are the illicit fruit of human trafficking. More human beings are trafficked in the garment industry than any other single industry (including prostitution). Take our St. Vincent Pledge to pay attention to, to see authentically, those human beings enslaved in modern supply chains. You can make the pledge here. 

St. Josephine Bakhita was born in Sudan in 1869 and died in Schio (Vicenza) in 1947. She knew the anguish of kidnapping and slavery, and she flourished in Italy, in response to God’s grace, with the Daughters of Charity.

In Slavery

Bakhita was not the name she received from her parents at birth. The fright and the terrible experiences she went through made her forget the name she was given by her parents. Bakhita, which means “fortunate”, was the name given to her by her kidnappers.

Sold and resold in the markets of El Obeid and of Khartoum, she experienced the humiliations and sufferings of slavery, both physical and moral.

Towards freedom

In the Capital of Sudan, Bakhita was bought by an Italian Consul, Callisto Legnani. For the first time in her life, no one used the lash when giving her orders; instead, she was treated in a loving and cordial way. In the Consul’s residence, Bakhita experienced peace, warmth and moments of joy, even though veiled by nostalgia for her own family, whom, perhaps, she had lost forever.

Political situations forced the Consul to leave for Italy. Bakhita asked and obtained permission to go with him and with a friend of his, a certain Mr. Augusto Michieli.

In Italy

On arrival in Genoa, Mr. Legnani, pressured by the request of Mr. Michieli’s wife, consented to leave Bakhita with them. She followed the new “family,” which settled in Zianigo. When their daughter Mimmina was born, Bakhita became her babysitter and friend.

The acquisition and management of a big hotel in Suakin, on the Red Sea, forced Mrs. Michieli to move to Suakin to help her husband. Meanwhile, on the advice of their administrator, Illuminato Checchini, Mimmina and Bakhita were entrusted to the Canossian Sisters of the Institute of the Catechumens in Venice. It was there that Bakhita came to know about God whom “she had experienced in her heart without knowing who He was” ever since she was a child. “Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: Who could be the Master of these beautiful things? And I felt a great desire to see him, to know Him and to pay Him homage…”

Daughter of God

After several months in the catechumenate, Bakhita received the sacraments of Christian initiation and was given the new name, Josephine. It was January 9, 1890. She did not know how to express her joy that day. Her big and expressive eyes sparkled, revealing deep emotions. From then on, she was often seen kissing the baptismal font and saying: “Here, I became a daughter of God!”

With each new day, she became more aware of who this God was, whom she now knew and loved, who had led her through mysterious ways, holding her by the hand.

When Mrs. Michieli returned from Africa to take back her daughter and Bakhita, the latter, with unusual firmness and courage, expressed her desire to remain with the Canossian Sisters and to serve that God who had shown her so many proofs of His love.

The young African, who by then had come of age, enjoyed the freedom which the Italian law ensured.

Daughter of St. Magdalene

Bakhita remained in the catechumenate where she experienced the call to be a religious, and to give herself to the Lord in the Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa.

On December 8, 1896 Josephine Bakhita was consecrated forever to God whom she called with the sweet expression “the Master!”

For another 50 years, this humble Daughter of Charity, a true witness of the love of God, lived in the community in Schio, engaged in various services: cooking, sewing, embroidery and attending to the door.

When she was on duty at the door, she would gently lay her hands on the heads of the children who daily attended the Canossian schools and caress them. Her amiable voice, which had the inflection and rhythm of the music of her country, was pleasing to the little ones, comforting to the poor and suffering and encouraging for those who knocked at the door of the Institute.

Witness of love

Her humility, her simplicity and her constant smile won the hearts of all the citizens. Her sisters in the community esteemed her for her inalterable sweet nature, her exquisite goodness and her deep desire to make the Lord known.

“Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!”

As she grew older she experienced long, painful years of sickness. Mother Bakhita continued to witness to faith, goodness and Christian hope. To those who visited her and asked how she was, she would respond with a smile: “As the Master desires.”

Final test

During her agony, she re-lived the terrible days of her slavery and more then once she begged the nurse who assisted her: “Please, loosen the chains… they are heavy!” Mother Bakhita breathed her last on February 8, 1947 at the Canossian Convent, Schio, surrounded by the Sisters. A crowd quickly gathered at the Convent to have a last look at their “Mother Moretta” and to ask for her protection from heaven. In Schio, where she spent many years of her life, locals still refer to her as “our Black Mother.”

In May 1992 news of her beatification was banned by Khartoum which Pope John Paul II then personally visited only nine months later. On 10 February 1993, he solemnly honoured Bakhita on her own soil. “Rejoice, all of Africa! Bakhita has come back to you. The daughter of Sudan sold into slavery as a living piece of merchandise and yet still free. Free with the freedom of the saints.”

Pope Benedict XVI, on 30 November 2007, in the beginning of his second encyclical letter Spe Salvi (In Hope We Were Saved), relates her entire life story as an outstanding example of the Christian hope (see paragraph #3).

A more complete biography of St. Josephine can be found here on the Vatican website.

Prayer

St. Josephine Bakhita,
you were sold into slavery as a child
and endured untold hardship and suffering.
Once liberated from your physical enslavement,
you found true redemption in your encounter with Christ and his Church.

O St. Bakhita,
assist all those who are trapped in a state of slavery;
Intercede with God on their behalf so that they will be released from their chains of captivity.
Those cruelly enslaved by others, may God set free.
Provide comfort to survivors of slavery and
let them look to you as an example of hope and faith.
Help all survivors find healing from their wounds.
We ask for your prayers and intercessions for those enslaved among us.
Amen