Category Archives: Advocate


TED Talk from Pope Francis

May 05, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Advocate

Bangladeshi_women_sewing_clothes

Perhaps you already have seen Pope Francis’ TED Talk “Why the only future worth building includes everyone.” If not, take a look. This post will be here when you have finished the 17 minutes, 52 second video.

Welcome back. Wasn’t that great?

In his direct, simple style, Pope Francis offers three main points (like his structure for most homilies):

  1. Pope Francis proposes a profoundly relational view of the world in contrast to a view that of “discarded people,” or as he has described on other occasions as a “throw away society” or the “globalization of indifference.”
  2. Pope Francis proposes that growth in science and technological innovation be coupled with a growth in equality and social inclusion. At the heart of this, he proposes solidarity as the way forward.
  3. Pope Francis proposes a “Revolution of tenderness.”  This tenderness in eyes, ear, hands, and heart is not weakness but fortitude. The Pope offers a shrewd understanding of power, not only of politicians and leaders of business, but also the power wielded by each of us.

Pope Francis offers an insightful way forward in such difficult times as this.

In a few minutes, I will leave this computer and walk to join in Milwaukee’s March for Workers. Locally, it has a particular concern for immigrant workers, but, personally, I will walk as well for exploited workers throughout the globe. In fact, most such marches today in the U.S. will likely use t-shirts for the cause made by other exploited workers.

Our work here at The Human Thread is a slow, gradual work. We share our tools and modules and scorecards. We talk with neighbors about our shopping habits. We support the work of those who meet with the leadership of retailers, urging human rights and a just wage in the dispersed corporate supply chain. This day, let us take some time to reflect on the “Revolution of Tenderness” proposed by Pope Francis, a revolution where indifference is replaced by compassion and solidarity, a revolution that sees not dollar signs but the faces of human beings, our very brothers and sisters.

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.

The Human Thread supports Trafficking Survivors Relief Act

October 10, 2016

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Advocate

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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.