Live Mercy in the Marketplace
By: Rachel Lyons
This Sunday we celebrate our annual Solidarity Market in Hughes Hall. But why? What do fair trade or local vendors have to do with us as people of faith? Several organizations, including Catholic Relief Services, call us to live out our values of mercy, compassion, justice, and human dignity in the marketplace and in our everyday lives. Let’s hear from an excerpt written for Chicago Fair Trade blog about a documentary called, The True Cost.*
In the 1960s, 90% of American clothing was manufactured in the United States. Today, only 3% of our clothing is made in the USA; most of the clothes we buy have been outsourced. We buy 400% more clothes and spend $80 million more than we did two decades ago. This is due to the phenomenon of Fast Fashion. […] Many think that the fashion industry is progressing. Yet The True Cost reminds us otherwise: “Because we can buy so much for so little, they are making us believe that we are richer, when in reality we are becoming poorer. The only person becoming richer are the owners of fast fashion [brands].” The producers set out to reveal the shocking struggles of producers as well as the harmful environmental effects of fast fashion behind the glamorous electronic billboards, store windows, and runways. The fashion industry employs one in six people in the entire world. So, they wonder, “why does this enormous, rapacious industry not guarantee the ability to support all these people’s lives? … How can a system make us feel rich but leave the world desperately poor?”
Some might ask, what is wrong with sweatshops? The people working there are provided with jobs, and at least they are not working in the coal mines. This might be true, but their working and living conditions do not even compare with those in the U.S; factories are often hot, and they work among dangerous chemicals. Moreover, factories are not safely constructed, which has caused factory collapses such as the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1100 people in 2013. This incident was frustrating because the workers had already pointed out the cracks in the walls to the managers yet were forced to reenter. Additionally, there is violence and abuse towards the workers: in one instance, managers locked the door and beat up thirty workers.
The poverty also means that children are separated from their parents. Since parents work incredibly long hours and cannot afford to care for their children, they send them to live with family or friends outside of the city, where they can attend school, which they hope will enable them to have a better life one day. One Bangladeshi mother tearfully said, “I believe that these clothes are produced by our blood. We want better working conditions so that no one dies like this. So that children do not lose their mothers like this… No matter how much someone loves a child, they can never love a child like a parent. I feel heartbroken. I don’t want my daughter to work in a garment factory like me.”
I have seen the film The True Cost and am reminded of it each time we host this market. Yes, I feel guilty about the fashion industry at times, but I also want to take action based on our faith. As the film’s director Andrew Morgan stated, “I do not want you to feel guilty. I want you to feel angry, I want you to feel moved…[because] we have a responsibility. We were given this little piece of history. Let’s leave the Earth better than we found it, using our voices on small city or global levels. Take this life in the most personal way that you can.”
Loving God, we belong to you, we belong to one another. Let the grace that flows from you flow through us and all whom we are connected to in the marketplace. We are each other’s. We are yours. Amen.
*Find the full blog post here: http://chicagofairtrade.org/the-true-cost-fashion-in-the-developing-world by Christina Como