August 08, 2016
This week, I saw a fascinating article from The Sourcing Journal. The Sourcing Journal describes itself as “the premiere trade publication for apparel and textile executives focused on sourcing and manufacturing.” The founder and CEO, Edward Hertzman, has deep experience in the supply chain for the apparel industry. His article, entitled “Unsustainable Sourcing: Why Chasing Cheap is About to Get Costly,” and the concerns he raises, complements many of our concerns here at The Human Thread. Follow the link and read the article.
Essentially, Hertzman’s argument is that the apparel industry cannot afford to continue on the road it has trod. From a business standpoint, the apparel industry is no longer viable. Today, underscoring his point, Macy’s announced that it will close 100 stores in the new year. The viability problems create an additional layer of problems. The industry, the race to the bottom, takes shortcuts to reduce costs. In Hertzman’s words:
The challenge then becomes accommodating such a price reduction in an ethical and profitable way, which some have been unable to do. So, the question becomes: Are we encouraging deceptive practices?
Retailers have also created a system which rewards wholesalers who cheat.
This is a don’t ask, don’t tell problem of the industry. As long as stadiums were packed, no one cared if home runs were helped by baseball players who took steroids. It’s not so different in our industry.
The problem is that, unlike tainted baseball statistics and the steroid-using players suffering the health consequences, the garment industry has consequences for tens of millions of factory workers across Asia and Latin America and nearly five million employees for U.S. retailers. And those are just some of the costs. In addition to unsafe factories, miserable wages, and human trafficking, cutting corners in the creation of apparel causes irreparable damage to the environment as the second largest contributor to global carbon emissions and the reckless disposal of chemicals used in the process.
Leaders in supply chain work, like Mr. Hertzman, see that there is a problem. Retailers see that there is a problem. The factory owners see that there is a problem. The unions and garment workers see that there is a problem. Governments and non-governmental organizations see that there is a problem.
Sadly, most consumers only see sales and discounted garments without seeing the costs.
What will it take for us to come together to make necessary changes?
August 08, 2016
Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up a mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen.
Gospel (Luke 9:28B-36)
On the mountain, was Jesus changed? Perhaps not. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). So, if Jesus did not change, what changed then? Might we suggest that the eyes of the apostles were changed, were opened? Was it for one brief moment that the apostles could truly see Jesus? Let’s suggest that, during this encounter on the mountain, the apostles could see Jesus as God sees Jesus.
Remember Bartimeus, or the blind beggar on the way to Jericho, or the man born blind: they could see Jesus, while others are blind to who Jesus is. Jesus often calls the Pharisees blind. “They have eyes but they cannot see. They have ears but they cannot hear.” Jesus could heal, but it was much more difficult to open eyes to truly see. The Gospel praises the virtue of awareness and sight, and condemns those oblivious to what’s around them.
The poor are almost always invisible. Our lives are daily touched by so many who are invisible to us: those who mine the rare metals in a cell phone, those who pick the lettuce in our lunch, and those who make our clothes.
How would the world look to us if we could see through God’s eyes?
We can begin to look at the world with God’s eyes, not our eyes. Think of St. Paul’s conversion: he was blinded by it, but he was not blind. How would others look to us if we could see them with God’s eyes? How would the poor, the different, look to us with God’s eyes? How would the Bangladeshi garment worker look to me if I could see her through God’s eyes? How would I look to myself with God’s eyes?
I suggest that we would see with greater compassion, with greater mercy, and we would treasure others. To see is to reverence. It’s an old word. When we see with God’s eyes, we can love with God’s love. Our prayer should be: “Lord, today, I want to be able to see better.”
August 08, 2016
Often enough, the few short images in a newspaper comic encapsulates enormous wisdom or, at least, raises troubling questions. Today’s comic from Sandra Bell-Lundy’s “Between Friends” artfully raises questions.
The main character in today’s sequence goes from jam-packed closet to jam-packed closet, trying find a place to put away some things. Bell-Lundy underscores what we already know: we have too much stuff. We buy five times more clothing annually today than we did 30 years ago. Realtors advertise walk-in closets. Americans rent storage space for our extra items. Often enough, we may have no idea how many things we have or where to find them. I will confess that I keenly saw my own shortcomings yesterday as a book arrived, and I realized that I already had a copy of it.
At heart, we might ask ourselves a couple of questions.
What do I own? What owns me?
The questions, derived from the late Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy, the late archbishop of Seattle, also became the title to Dan Conway‘s excellent book: What do I Own and What Owns Me?: A Spirituality of Stewardship. Both Archbishop Murphy and Conway can speak about stewardship much more eloquently than I can, but suffice it to say that our possessions can get in the way of our joyful discipleship is something that came from an even more eminent authority: Jesus. As we heard at Sunday’s liturgy (18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C): “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions” (Lk 12:15).
The late comedian George Carlin talks about “My Stuff” (WARNING: the video link has some offensive language). Carlin observes: “That’s all your house is– a place to keep your stuff.” For many of us, our closets are full of things that we do not need, that we will not use, but we retain on the off-chance that it will be useful. It can fairly be said that our “stuff” owns us.
Spoiler alert: Conway believes that, for a Christian, when all is said and done we own nothing because we are possessed wholly and completely by “a good and gracious God.” Life is a gift to be cherished, shared, and given back to God with increase. Conversion and a deepening relationship with God call us to change our relationship with our “stuff.”
Organizing consultant and author Marie Kondo asks it in a slightly different manner: “What sparks joy?” in her book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. All the other things beyond that are unnecessary. Kondo suggests pulling out every item of clothing that one has and placing it together
Kondo urges for a “once-in-a-lifetime tidying marathon,” piling five categories of material possessions — clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous items and sentimental items, including photos, in that order. Next, one surveys each item, noting the quantities of each category, seeing that it’s way too much and then holding each item to see if it “sparks joy.” Those that “spark joy” get to stay, and everything else gets a heartfelt and generous goodbye and then sent out. By the way, anything that was forgotten in a closet or a dresser is automatically discarded as it was forgettable. Kondo concludes that our lives are much more joyful without all the “stuff.”
Everything we buy has an impact that is both global and personal. Our way of purchasing things like clothing, chocolate, coffee, and cell phones also result in immense environmental damage and the trafficking of tens of millions of human persons. In the end, we do not need to buy so much “stuff,” and our lives may well be enhanced by letting go of a lot of “stuff.” And, maybe, little by little, we can be in right relationship with our possessions, our neighbor who makes our “stuff,” and our God.
August 08, 2016
For more than two decades, more and more Americans have become aware of the exploitation and violence associated with much of the globalized garment industry producing more than 95 percent of our clothes. A series of media exposures, including the 1996 revelation that TV host Kathy Lee Gifford had endorsed a clothing line produced by Honduran children in sweatshop conditions, spurred a growing consciousness of labor abuses in many countries.
These exposures highlighted the persistent use of child labor, the absence of living wages that could sustain a decent livelihood for millions of workers, and the prevalence of unsafe working conditions. The latter issue was thrust dramatically into public awareness by the collapse in April, 2013 of Rana Plaza, an eight-story commercial building in Dhaka, Bangladesh that housed a number of garment companies supplying brands like Children’s Place, Benetton, Cato Fashions, and the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. The collapse of the building, which many workers had warned was unsafe, killed 1,139 workers and injured 2,500 more.
Although many of the major brands made public commitments to rectify such abuses, they continue to shed direct responsibility by contracting with local suppliers and subcontractors in different countries. They can easily move from country to country, supplier to supplier, to keep prices competitive while exerting downward pressure on workers’ wages and working conditions.
This dynamic, too, has gained media attention along with the abuses themselves. TV satirist John Oliver focused on it last year in a segment of his show, “Last Week Tonight,” while filmmaker Andrew Morgan devoted an entire documentary, The True Cost, to exposing the system and its detrimental effects on millions of people. Both Oliver and Morgan unveiled visual evidence of profound inequity, yet exploitation and deprivation persist while fashion industry executives have become some of the wealthiest people on the planet (e.g. Stefan Persson of H&M worth $28 billion; Amancio Ortega of Zara worth $57 billion).
Many consumers who become aware of these problems are left with uncertainty as to a responsible course of action. Some have begun to look to fair trade certification as an answer, seeking out businesses that promise adherence to ethical labor and environmental standards. Yet considering the vast preponderance of garments manufactured by major brands, a number of critics argue that for the 40 million garment workers worldwide, a more comprehensive, sector-wide approach is needed.
One possible beginning step for individuals is a basic one: moving beyond the identity of “ethical consumer” to embrace the broader, more responsive identity of global citizen. The former is still closely identified with the products we choose, the latter with an awareness of the social relations defined by a globalized capitalist economy. As a more encompassing term, citizenship entails a responsibility for continuing self-education no matter what one’s stage of life may be.
From this perspective, it may well be worth one’s while to visit the websites of organizations like the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Asia Floor Wage Alliance. These umbrella organizations represent broad coalitions of trade unions and human rights organizations, and their response to the issues is political. They engage in advocacy, lobbying, and public education to support garmentworkers’ rights (including freedom of association and union representation) across the national boundaries that transnational corporations so easily traverse. The Asia Floor Wage Alliance makes a crucial distinction between the legal minimum wage in many of the producing countries and a living wage that enables workers to support themselves and their families with dignity. And these organizations offer ways that individuals can help take a stand in solidarity with workers, including (on the Clean Clothes website) a link that provides information on the corporate behavior of specific labels.
It may be objected that with so many American jobs already lost overseas, our focus should stay squarely on retaining and growing jobs here at home. Yet the garment industry is itself a prime example of outsourcing; it wasn’t very long ago that most of the clothes purchased in the U.S. were made by American workers. The same global economics affecting the welfare of workers in Bangladesh or Cambodia affect the welfare of workers here.
More than 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from Birmingham, Alabama, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.” If he had written those words today from Dhaka or Mumbai, Phnom Penh or Jakarta, they’d ring as true now as they ever did.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Andrew Moss is an emeritus professor at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he taught a course, “War and Peace in Literature,” for 10 years.