Monthly Archives: April 2017


A Lament for Rana Plaza

April 04, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Pray

building
For a fourth time, people around the world will commemorate the anniversary of history’s deadliest garment industry disaster. On April 24, 2013, near Dhaka in Bangladesh, the eight-story Rana Plaza building collapsed taking the lives of 1,134 workers and injuring more than 2,500. Littered among the rubble were labels for American brands, as much of the clothing produced there was destined for the United States. At the time, Pope Francis remarked, “Living on 38 euros ($50) a month – that was the pay of these people who died. That is called slave labor.”

The Human Thread offers the following prayer service as a way to commemorate the tragic events at Rana Plaza. We do not simply mourn those who died. We see that it calls us to something new. We will only know an abiding joy when our guilt and overwhelming unease yields to a compassionate solidarity with those whom we have exploited. To lament is to wrestle with difficult questions through suffering and conversion. Gradually, we become more aware of our complicity in the violence of global supply chains and no longer seek to hide it. Our exultant Easter Alleluias can only be born of Good Friday’s lamentation.

Hence, we hope that you will find this prayer service helpful and fitting for remembering those who lost their lives at Rana Plaza: http://www.humanthreadcampaign.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/RanaPlaza.pdf

Art exposes garment industry injustice

April 04, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Advocate

"Machimon," a work of art depicting the harms of Fast Fashion by Rose Flores

“Machimon,” a work of art depicting the harms of Fast Fashion by Rose Flores

Art changes our perception. Occasionally, art speaks where words fail. Rose Flores uses her art to promote understanding and action in the garment industry on critical issues facing our communities and the world.

Rose encountered The Human Thread from a presentation at Divine Mercy Parish in South Milwaukee. Troubled by the content of the presentation, both the harm to the garment worker as well as the harm to creation, Rose said that she could not sleep. She said, “I wanted to tell people about the issue, but how do you explain it?” So, she decide to make something visual.

The lower left arm is weighted by chains, signifying low wages.

The lower left arm is weighted by chains, signifying low wages.

Rose and her husband dubbed the figure “Machimon.” On a mission trip to Guatemala, they encountered a Mayan deity, a god of excess and injustice by the name of Machimon. In a way, as we purchase garments to such excess and as the garment industry perpetuates tremendous injustice, the name seems fitting.

A few notable elements in the art:

  • The raised right arm has a gold papier-mâché figure representing the excessive profit from some garments. Hanging from the papier-mâché figure is a price tag that notes the average cost of a gown worn to the Oscars is $75,000.
  • The lower left arm is weighted by chains, signifying low wages, that have tags indicating the hourly wage in certain garment-making countries.
  • The face of the figure is a globe. Rose said that, for a while, she was uncertain what face to place on the figure, but a globe seems most appropriate as “I wanted to tell people it’s a world problem.”
  • At the feet of the figure are signs of the environmental harmed caused by the garment industry.

Rose insists that she does not have an art background, but that she enjoys it and has taken some classes. She adds, “It surprises me that I did this.”

At the feet of the figure are signs of the environmental harmed caused by the garment industry.

At the feet of the figure are signs of the environmental harmed caused by the garment industry.

All of the material for the art came from her home, all recycled. The main garment in the work of art is a shirt from her husband that was in their box to donate to Goodwill. The papier-mâché figure in the right hand is a project that a granddaughter made visiting an art museum.

The raised right arm has a gold papier-mâché figure

The raised right arm has a gold papier-mâché figure and a price tag noting the average cost of a gown worn to the Oscars .

Does Rose sleep any better after making this work of art? [The garment industry] “still bothers me a great deal,” she said. “When I try to talk to people, I get a glazed look sometimes. I can’t find the words to tell people how serious this is.”

Often, as injustice becomes routinized, we fall into what Pope Francis terms the “globalization of indifference.” Before such an enormous issue of injustice, what can a person do?

For Rose, “Machimon” was something she had to do. “Machimon” is a creative expression of art that exposes that injustice and hints at a way forward based on solidarity and receiving the other person as a gift. Art, indeed, can be an instrument for social change.

Since 1972, Rose and her husband Jose have lived in South Milwaukee participating in the parish that now comprise Divine Mercy Parish.

Brands, public opinion, and corporate social responsibility

April 04, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Advocate

GlobeThe New York Times had a front page article Friday, “Brands Wrestle With Whiplash of Viral Anger,” that explores the requirement for increased nimbleness on the part of brands as activists pressure them concerning the placement of their advertising. While the article is concerned with advertising, it has an important quotation that speaks to something deeper:

“Americans are now demanding that their brands articulate their values and weigh in on political issues, and I think the degree to which they are expecting that is really quite new,” said Kara Alaimo, who teaches public relations at Hofstra University.

The consumer demand stands in sharp contrast to the claim by Milton Friedman in the same newspaper almost fifty years earlier: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud” (NYT, Sept. 13, 1970).

While today’s article is quite good, giving the context of a handful of current controversies, it misses a more crucial question: Why do Americans demand more of their brands? Why do Americans now expect CEOs to speak out about presidential executive orders, state laws, and a myriad of concerns that, at first blush, seem removed from their corporate responsibilities?

One macro explanation is that the social contract has changed. While numerous philosophers have described the “social contract,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Du contrat social (1762) may be the canonical description of the concept. Rousseau’s concept included business but his notion of the social contract was largely a consideration of individuals and the government. An individual yields sovereignty to a government that in turn provides prosperity, security, and health. Rousseau’s concept did not envision the circumstance we have today. Corporations have evolved such that they wield enormous resources and, thereby, influence. Multi-national corporations now have annual sales that dwarf the economies of many nations. The graphic below shows that, if the largest corporations’ annual sales were considered alongside the GDP of nations, more than 40 corporations rank in the top 100. In 2016, Wal-Mart ranks #21, with an economy larger than that of Sweden.

Companies

The enormous size and scale of multinational corporations fittingly drives the desire on the part of consumers that these corporations express the values of those consumers. Hence, a controversial state law may spark statements from large employers in that state. Further, leading institutions, like the United Nations, via the Global Compact which engages more than 9,000 global companies in support of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, and the Catholic Church, in documents like Laudato Si’, attempt to persuade the corporate community that business must attend as well to the care of creation and concern for the most poor on the planet.

A changing landscape with greater concentration of power in large, multi-national corporations brings greater responsibility for attending to matters that were once not a day-to-day concern in the operations of a corporation.

Equal Pay Day 2017

April 04, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Learn

Image credits: Brendan McDermid

Image credits: Brendan McDermid

In the U.S., Equal Pay Day falls on April 4 this year. Today marks the day that the average woman in the U.S. earned as much as an average man did in 2016 alone. Put another way, women currently earn 80 cents for each dollar that men earn.

This situation is not unique to the U.S. In fact, studies, from sources like the World Bank, suggest that, as women contribute more apparel-specific labor input than men and that the apparel sector is a female-labor intensive sector, the leading place to make an impact on the global gender wage gap is through improving wages in the garment industry. We think that the remedy is a living wage for garment workers.

Given the violence directed at labor leaders in the garment industry, like Aminul Islam,  we know that people who make our clothes include women every bit as brave as the “fearless girl” pictured above, women like Kalpona Akter and Shima Akter, profiled in “The True Cost,” are women with whom we seek to stand in solidarity. The garment industry is stuck in low wages for workers, and it will only get unstuck when we act. The bravery required for us is but a fraction of the bravery of women and men working for better, dignified wages. What will we do so that they are not standing alone?