Deliberations and Resources on Radical Christianity

Jesus loves you, too bad about the messenger…

I just came across this blog by American freelance writer Ed Brayton. He speaks of a story he is currently working on which exposes the source behind many “Christian” trinkets in bookshops and supermarkets: sweatshop labour.

It would be laughable were the reality not so tragic. In an age of supposed enlightenment and human respect, slavery still happens under our noses and we treat it as an abstract concept simply because we can’t see it. What’s even worse is that crucifixes, toys, and gifts bearing nice messages such as “Jesus loves you” are now being distributed and manufactured by means that are an absolute and unadulterated affront to Jesus’ teachings. He overturned the moneychangers’ tables in His day; I’d shudder to think what He would do were He here in the flesh right now.

Yet we are Jesus’ hands and feet, are we not? He demonstrated outrage at the oppression of poorer classes, and if we seek to follow Him then we ought to be following the same. Peacemakers though we are, there are some things in this world that just cannot be tolerated. Yet, by our purchasing choices, not only do we tolerate slavery, we actually endorse and fund it.

Where are your clothes coming from? Do you know about the source? Are you challenging your manufacturer?

It is our duty to know and understand where our products are coming from. They are not abstract concepts, our consumerism always starts somewhere and it could be costing someone else more than you could ever appreciate.

14 responses

  1. Pip

    Good call Adam. This world is just FUCKED UP

    November 28, 2007 at 10:03 pm

  2. adam, do you have any suggestions on literature/internet articles to research this kind of slave labor? I am just not educated on this. I always wondered “are these kids forced into this kind of labor, or is 2 cents a day better than nothing in their current circumstances?”

    November 29, 2007 at 3:28 pm

  3. Josh, I know it can be frustrating not to be “clued up” on certain important issues, I still have much to learn myself. I think it’s dangerous to get in a mindset where we think “well, their two cents an hour is better than nothing at all,” because we are being complacent about the situation and it stops us from seeking improvement. The situation could always be worse, but it could most certainly be better as well. To say it is acceptable for impoverished families to work long hours without breaks for what is essentially slave labour is to justify oppression. The Bible has very harsh words for landowners who oppress their workers; the cries of the people they have failed to pay have reached the ears of God Almighty.

    Of course, it is not merely enough to abstain from those items which are brought to us by sweatshop labour, because then we have not improved the situation. Rather, we need companies to understand why we aren’t buying these items, and then call them to accountability for their irresponsible use of power. Moreover, we also need to support the efforts of organisations and movements who are striving to improve the wellbeing of communities in developing/poor countries. It calls for holistic action.

    I don’t have any websites or literature off the top of my head to hand about this stuff, but there are plenty of internet resources. A few keywords should start you on your way, and I would suggest supporting a campaign to improve workers’ wages and conditions in poor countries.

    November 29, 2007 at 4:54 pm

  4. makes sense, thanks for the response. I think that issues like sweatshop labor just further the distance between the rich and the poor. It almost seems like a tool to keep poverty stricken people “in their place”.

    November 29, 2007 at 8:00 pm

  5. Nathan

    I’m reminded of the so-called Testamints that you can sometimes find in Christian bookstores. They’re these breath mints with a cross imprinted upon them. Furthermore, the pieces of paper in which they are wrapped have bible verses printed on them. I recall trying not to laugh when I saw such things. However, I’ve just now been wondering what goes into making such a product. All I’ve found from research is that they are “Made in China.”

    Here’s their site: http://www.testamints.net

    I have to admit, the site does make me chuckle. But alas, I still worry about how such kitsch gets made.

    December 1, 2007 at 6:38 am

  6. Mike

    I don’t know where Nathan gets his information from. I am eating a piece of Testamints gum right now from a package that says “Made in Switzerland” – hmm…I don’t know of child labor there….?? Let me open my bag of individually wrapped Testamints. Three flavors here: peppermint, spearmint and wintergreen. Huh – wouldn’t you know it. The bag says “Made in the USA” – well, I guess you’re wrong on two counts. Wait, let me check something else. I have some Smarties here, Tangy Tarts they are called – made by Scripture Candy… oh well, “Made in USA”.

    I have read the article about using child labor – and it is from a lobby group, and all they found is ONE ITEM from ONE MANUFACTURER. In fact, upon reading the report, they had two photos from the factory, and in the report, they used the same photos 4 times each. But as with all things of thins type, they try and pull in as many as possible to force implication. They even said the Christian Booksellers Association was in on it, because this one company is a member. But if they took a look at the association ,they would find out that they are not in place to watch the products their members produce – they are not a policing association. How in the world can an association spend all it’s time to check every product that every member produces? They don’t have the manpower, and it’s up to the member to voluntarily take the action themselves. It’s like trying to make a local Chamber of Commerce to do something because their local McDonald’s has too much grease in their fries. If someone wants to make a difference, they need to find the offending product, and call the manufacturer themselves to get a real answer. All these reports and mud-slinging people out there should just focus their attention on that, rather than getting to whole world to paint every item as bad. Why don’t we just shoot every messenger of the message “Jesus Loves You” – human or not. After all, none of us are perfect, and if we even do one sin, then aren’t we just as bad? For then, the world looks upon us and says “Hmmph…they’re not better than I am. Why do I need their message?”

    December 2, 2007 at 9:12 pm

  7. different Nathan

    What is there even left to add to what has already been said well by everyone else?

    I don’t often know how to read the Bible–as a whole and in part–but there are several verses that give me hope in spite of what I’ve read here.

    from James 5:1-6: Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Yor riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murded the righteous one, who does not resist you.

    It is the ambiguity of the final verse that especially I love. It is an ambiguity of the identity of the righteous one: the crucified Jesus and the exploited worker seemingly identified as one and the same. I think that this is the promise to the worker, viz. their hope. I hope and pray that these Chinese workers, among so many exploited workers, come to identify with Jesus in their plight–clearly not the Jesus of bumperstickers or mints that they produce, but of something, as the creed suggests, truly human and truly God, a mystery that suffers with them and liberates them in their suffering.

    December 2, 2007 at 10:35 pm

  8. That’s a very interesting reading of that particular passage, Nathan, thank you. I admit I’d not quite thought of it that way before.

    Mike, I’m not entirely sure what conclusion you’re getting to in your comment. Isn’t it prudent to seek an end to injustice wherever it may arise? Or am I reading you wrongly?

    December 2, 2007 at 11:00 pm

  9. Agreed on most points.

    Consumers support that which they consume, therefore the conscientious consumer must know that which they support.

    However, I differ on two points:

    1) Sweatshop labor should not be equated to slave labor. Strong legal, philosophical, and practical differences exist between the two.

    and extrapolating a bit…

    2) Sweatshops should not be illegal.
    aha! I’m serious, though. As consumers and as humans we should condemn the practices of sweatshops. We should be active against such conditions. We should encourage companies to understand that better conditions for the worker creates better products for the consumer which in turn creates more money for the company.

    But! Forcing by law companies to capitulate a) interferes with market forces which can cause change independently, and b) hurts the workers even more. Companies will switch locations which then deprives the worker community access to work. Sweatshop conditions are lousy… and, um, sweaty. They are inhumane. However, the wages earned by those workers exceed by far the wages available to them by other means in their community and region. That’s why there is such competition to be an employee of a sweatshop! The adults and children who work in those factories are earning more than they could elsewhere, AND the poor conditions will cause those individuals to fight tooth and nail to create a society (and start businesses) which values human life and good working conditions.

    December 4, 2007 at 5:47 pm

  10. The point that lorien brings up is kind of what I was getting at. It’s hard to find a positive outcome with the current state of things.

    December 6, 2007 at 5:15 pm

  11. Nathan

    First of all, let me make it clear that I’m not only condemning child labor, but poorly conditioned labor on the whole.

    My apologies for being inaccurate. I wasn’t one hundred percent certain anyway. There were only a few scant resources indicating that they were made in China. But even so, I wasn’t implying that it was all bad. From what I understand, not all manufacturing work in China is horrid.

    I guess this what I get for going on Internet research alone.

    However, Mike, I still bring the challenge that we as loving Christians ought to oppose injustice wherever it may be. That includes these people whom are being forced into what is essentially slave labor in order to produce kitsch-like trinkets that merely say “Jesus Loves You.”

    Furthermore, even if such trinkets or things like Testamints weren’t produced by slave labor, what’s to say that they aren’t still pathetic. Personally, I find such things to be more of a lame representation of what I believe. “Oh sure…I’m a Christian, so I guess I should buy these ‘Christian’ candies and ‘Christian’ toys, and heck, let’s add ‘The Jesus Diet’ to my shopping cart here at the bible bookstore while I’m at it.”

    OK, so I’m ranting here. DOn’t take me to offensively. If you like bible bookstores and the various things that they sell, ok.

    December 8, 2007 at 1:09 am

  12. Nathan,

    I understand and appreciate your concern. I hope you don’t see my continued response as involving any form of pressure or stretching out the discussion. I’m genuinely interested in the topic, is all!

    The point that I’m largely lost on is: “these people whom are being forced into what is essentially slave labor”.

    Chinese factories *are* often using genuine slave labor. Slavery cannot be condoned under any circumstance. Let’s move beyond this point for a bit. In sweatshop labor conditions which are far more widespread, who is being forced?

    December 8, 2007 at 1:50 am

  13. Pingback: Christian Bookshops — who needs them? « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog

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