June 06, 2017
We know that zero transparency results in zero accountability in supply chains. Dispersed global supplies chains, without transparency, facilitates passing the buck on the human rights and worker safety.
Fashion Revolution, an organization born, like The Human Thread, after the Rana Plaza disaster, is doing great work in popularizing concern about human rights and worker safety in the garment industry. Recently, Fashion Revolution released its “Fashion Transparency Index 2017,” which reviews and ranks 100 of the biggest global fashion and apparel brands and retailers according to how much information they disclose about their suppliers, supply chain policies and practices, and social and environmental impact. This tool is a useful assessment of how various brands are doing.
You can view the document here.
September 09, 2016
Pope Francis invites us to be a poor church for the poor, to build community, to become a church on the margins. To do this, we need help from the saints, both as intercessors and as examples.
Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Vincent De Paul (24 April 1581 – 27 September 1660), a French priest who dedicated himself to serving the poor. Renowned for his compassion, humility, and generosity and known as the “Great Apostle of Charity,” he was canonized in 1737.
Vincent’s life was full of dramatic moments. At 24 years old, Vincent was taken captive by Barbary pirates and spent two years in bondage as a slave. As a young priest, rising quickly among the ranks of the clergy, he abandoned the path for advancement when he experienced a call to serve the poor, a call that changed his life.
A tireless apostle, St. Vincent de Paul founded an order of priests, the Congregation of the Missions, to work with peasants in villages. Called the Vincentians, today there are almost 4,000 members of this religious order. Vincent also assisted Saint Louise de Marillac in founding the Daughters of Charity, an order of women religious who served the poor in the world, rather than living a cloistered life. As well, his exampled is imitated by the Society of St. Vincent De Paul and its many councils in parishes around the world and in numerous thrift stores that bear his name.
The spirituality of St. Vincent De Paul concretely connects faith to action:
So then, if there are any among us who think that they are in the Congregation of the Mission to preach the Gospel to the poor but not to comfort them, to supply their spiritual but not their temporal wants, I reply that we ought to assist them and have them assisted in every way, by ourselves and by others, if we wish to hear those consoling words of the Sovereign Judge of the living and the dead: ‘Come, beloved of my Father, possess the Kingdom that has been prepared for you; because I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me.’ To do this is to preach the Gospel by words and by works, it is to do so most perfectly and it is also what Our Lord did and what those who represent Him on earth, in office and in character, such as priests, should do. –St. Vincent de Paul (Conferences to the CM’s, Conference 195, p. 608.)
At an event accompanying the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta, Pope Francis said, “The world stands in need of concrete signs of solidarity, especially as it is faced with the temptation to indifference.” The saints for garment justice whom we highlight, including St. Vincent De Paul, are those “concrete signs of solidarity.” They give witness to paths that overcome “the temptation to indifference.”
Prayer from the Missal
O God, who for the relief of the poor
and the formation of the clergy
endowed the Priest Saint Vincent de Paul
with apostolic virtues,
grant, we pray, that, afire with that same spirit,
we may love what he loved
and put into practice what he taught.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
August 08, 2016
It’s an old Latin phrase meaning “buyer beware.” Wikipedia tells us:
The phrase caveat emptor and its use as a disclaimer of warranties arise from the fact that buyers typically have less information about the good or service they are purchasing, while the seller has more information. The quality of this situation is known as ‘information asymmetry’. Defects in the good or service may be hidden from the buyer, and only known to the seller.
One consequence of this notion is that once the buyer and the seller have agreed to the terms of the exchange, the responsibility for any fault or for any harm done by the product lay entirely with the buyer. Similar to items sold “as is,” caveat emptor presupposes that the buyer inspects the item and finds it satisfactory prior to purchase. Certain home purchases and most used car sales fall under this umbrella. If you did not inspect the house thoroughly, better ask around for a good contractor as you will be paying to repair the leaky roof. If you bought a used car “as is” and discover that the lemon needs a new transmission, prepare to pay the mechanic. If you purchase a defective lava lamp at a garage sale, the purchase is final, and you own a fancy new paperweight.
Now, imagine if we extend the limits of caveat emptor more fully into our lives as consumers, such that the consumer assumes responsibility for all the faults and harms in the supply chain for the purchased shirt or blouse. In that instance, we could say that the person who wears garments from H & M assumes responsibility for the 14-year-olds who worked 12-hour days for “for the lowest minimum wage in the world (about $3 a day)” to make the shirt or blouse. It does not seem unreasonable to say that this consumer, under caveat emptor, bears moral responsibility for the purchased product. That same consumer assumes a moral responsibility for the environmental havoc wrought by the reckless discharge of chemicals used in the manufacturing process of the same shirt or blouse for that H & M garment. Having purchased that short or blouse means that I now bear responsibility for a polluted, lifeless river, a child exposed to carcinogens living near the field where the cotton was grown, or the devastating loss of life in a factory tragedy.
In classical understandings, there were once three professions: lawyers, physicians, and clergy. To this day, all three have certain privileges enshrined in law. All three were understood as “healing arts.” The clergy healed the soul. The physician healed the body. The lawyer healed the communal relationship. Maxims like caveat emptor aimed to protect, or where broken mend, relationships in the community.
Similarly, our faith suggests that we would do well to heed caveat emptor in this broader sense. If we extend the notion in terms of Christian stewardship, Jesus warned, “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Mt 6:21). We may own the things we buy, but they also begin to own us. Every purchase we make has moral consequences. Pope Francis, in Laudato Si’, said: “Purchasing is always a moral– and not simply economic– act.” Indeed, then, every purchase is caveat emptor, buyer beware, for this has impact on your soul, on your spirituality, on how you relate to God, neighbor, creation, and even that garment worker in some distant land.
We believe as Catholics that being in right-relationship gives true and lasting joy. Being in right-relationship with God, with family, with neighbor, with the garment worker, and even with my enemy is a critical expression of my lived faith. A richer understanding of caveat emptor means that, before I buy, I want to know the locations of supplier factories to enable independent monitoring and verification of conditions for workers. It means that I want workers to receive a living wage, without excessive overtime and with regular safety training. It means that I want to insure that environmental hazards are reduced or eliminated, at home and abroad. And it means that my desire for these things must express itself in action.
Before you purchase, remember: caveat emptor! As consumers we need to overcome that “information asymmetry” with a deeper knowledge of how this purchase impacts our lives as well as the lives of so many others.
August 08, 2016
Before entering the Jesuits, St. Alberto Hurtado discovered his vocation working in a poor neighborhood of Santiago, Chile. One of his great works was founding, in that neighborhood, the Hogar de Cristo, Chile’s first homeless shelter. He began volunteering at a parish and school in the neighborhood while in high school. His law school thesis, El trabajo a domicilio (Work at home), applied Catholic Social Teaching to women who sewed button holes at home. He concluded that they were grossly underpaid, an injustice according to church teachings. A 2005 Chilean film tells the story of Alberto’s youth up to his entrance into the Jesuits, highlighting his personal conversion while writing the thesis. The film, “Alberto: ¿Quién sabe cuánto cuesta hacer un ojal?,”(Alberto: Who knows how much it costs to make a button hole?) can be found in Spanish on YouTube here.
An inspiring writer, preacher, teacher, and retreat master, St. Alberto Hurtado led a life distinguished as a patron of youth and the poor and workers. His 1941 book, ¿Es Chile un país Católico? (Is Chile a Catholic Country?), raised an uncommon question for a country that registered at 94% Catholic. His surprising conclusion was “no, not yet” as the church was distant from the poor and so much of Catholic Social Teaching remained unpracticed.
Inspired by Catholic Social Teaching, St. Alberto Hurtado founded the Chilean Trade Union Association, meant to train leaders and instill Christian values in the labor unions of his country. For them he wrote three books: Social Humanism (1947), The Christian Social Order (1947) and Trade Unions (1950). To disseminate the social teaching of the Church and help Christians reflect and act on the serious social problems faced by the country, he founded the periodical Mensaje (“Message”) in 1951. He himself published numerous articles and books on labor issues in relation to Catholic practice.
St. Alberto Hurtado’s earthly life concluded on August 18, 1952, dying of pancreatic cancer at the age of 51 years old. In 2005, he became Chile’s second canonized saint.
Lord Jesus Christ, who commanded us to love and to love our neighbors, we pray that you would fill is with the desire and courage to love and serve others as Saint Alberto Hurtado did. Help us to hear the cries of the poor and the suffering and to see your blessed face in the face of those who are often left out in our modern world. Like a lighthouse shining its hopeful light out into the vast ocean, lead us to share the hopeful message of your love with those who are caught in the rough waters of life.
Saint Alberto Hurtado, Apostle of Jesus Christ,
Devoted servant of the poor,
Friend of children,
And teach of youth.
We bless and thank our God
For the time you spent among us.
You knew how to love and serve.
You were a prophet of justice and a
Refuge for the needy and forsaken.
With tender love you built a home
to shelter Christ.
As a true father
You call us to live our faith,
Responsibly, honestly and fraternally.
You guide us with enthusiasm
to follow in the steps of the Master.
You lead us to the Savior
for which the whole world longs.
Teach us to live joyfully,
even in the midst of difficulties.
Show us how to overcome our selfishness,
to live our lives for the sake of others.
St. Alberto Hurtado, son of Mary, son of the Church,
friend of God and of all people,
pray for us.