May 05, 2017
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):
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.
April 04, 2017
The 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.
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.
February 02, 2017
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
October 10, 2016
Pope Francis, who has paid more attention than most to Bangladesh, is in the process of directing Catholics’ and the world’s gaze upon that nation.
Recall that Pope Francis was one world leader who called attention to the disaster at Rana Plaza. Pope Francis, vigilant of religious persecution, also voiced sorrow for the victims of the terrorist attack in Dhaka. Returning from Georgia and Azerbaijan, Pope Francis confirmed that he will visit Bangladesh in 2017. Then, on Sunday, he named Archbishop Patrick D’Rosario, C.S.C. a cardinal. Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country of almost 170 million people, has 350,000 Catholics, or just .2% of the population. It will be the second visit by a Pope to Bangladesh as Saint John Paul II visited in 1986.
The challenges posed in Evangelii Gaudium to go to the peripheries and in Laudato Si’ to care for our common home, many of the great themes of his papacy, are incarnated in Bangladesh. Among issues associated with poverty, the Pope’s visit to Bangladesh in 2017 will likely bring attention to workers’ rights, wages, and workplace safety in garment industry. The church in Bangladesh has done extraordinary work on behalf of the poor, but Pope Francis will bring that great work and the ongoing challenges to the attention of the rest of the world.