IJM recently raided a factory location in India because women and children were being forced to work a ridiculous amount of hours each day in manual factory labor. They were locked up. Unable to sleep. Hardly eating. Thank goodness, a just government official caught wind of the situation and reported it to higher authorities. I wish this was abnormal. I wish we were able to say that other countries enforced child labor laws or paid workers that which they deserved. I wish that every child, woman, and man were given equal opportunity in a just society.
I wish I could say that I didn’t contribute to the injustice. But, I drink coffee. I eat chocolate. And I love cheap, fashionable clothing.
We live in a society aimed towards advocating for social justice and reform. On every corner, it seems, exists a new platform or NGO letting their voice be heard. This is extremely prevalent amongst the members of my generation. Clubs representing causes are abundant on college campuses—in fact; I think the first t-shirt I ever bought while at Lee University was a shirt for Acting on Aids. On the back, in red, was a quote from Gandhi. Be the change you wish to see in the world.
Be the change. We say that. I say that. But do my actions say something different?
This is the question that has been running around in my mind since returning from my five weeks in India. I am haunted by the faces of the girls I know will never receive education because their fathers will force them to work to feed the family. I know girls who will work in factories, receiving less than minimum wages. They are not safe environments. They are forced to do things with male workers they do not want to do. Their options are limited, and I myself am convicted. And yet, if you look at my bank statement, my actions aren’t lining up with those convictions.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not using this as a platform to bash the lifestyle choices or decisions of you, the reader. I am, though, looking in the mirror, challenging myself, and sharing these challenges in hopes of provoking some thought and change.
It doesn’t take a lot of internet research to gain an understanding of what’s happening globally. Children are slave workers. It has been going on for generations– in an overwhelming amount of countries. Headlines look like this: Children Toil in India’s mines, Despite Legal ban. China says abusive Child Labor Ring Is Exposed. Similar headlines can be found on the New York Times online website. They can be found almost everywhere.
I don’t think this is a surprise to most of us. In recent years, awareness about child labor, human trafficking, and sweat shop work has been rising. What we don’t always think about is the fact that so much of what we consume–clothing, food, coffee and yes–even those breathtaking diamonds that are every girl’s best friend–more often than not, come as a result of child labor.
Here are just a few companies we all most likely invest in that knowingly use materials produced by slave labor:
Hershey’s. M&M. Nestle. Kraft. Cadbury. H&M. Gap. Walmart. Hanes. Maxwell House.
Even that good Folders in your cup.
I’m sure the list can go on and on. So, what’s the solution? How can we help?
I wish to join a conversation that has been taking place for some time now. I am not saying there is one answer. I am saying that there are options. They are options, however, that require sacrifice and determination for the consumer. Purchase fair trade items. Research different options. Shop locally. Buy things from Goodwill. Help sustain American economy. Perhaps, spend a little bit more, but buy less. [I’ll be writing more about this at a later time.]
Now, I do realize that these options are much easier to list than to actually put into action. I love Peanut M&Ms. I have a really beautiful pink blouse from Gap that I am constantly getting complimented on. And when I go buy supplies for my middle school youth games–I run in the Walmart that sits across the street from the church. Shopping fair trade isn’t always convenient. And it certainly isn’t always economical. One of the most common arguments against shopping fair trade is that it’s just a fad for the wealthy. I can’t afford to spend that much on a blouse. Spending that much on food is impossible. I don’t have that kind of money. The things I purchase don’t actually make that big of a difference.
As a post-graduate, I completely relate to these arguments. I also recognize that the majority of people, particularly in extremely low income areas cannot afford to shop at places other than Walmart or similar stores. I think, though, that those that are able–should. I don’t make a ton of money. I do, though, usually find a way to purchase the things I want to purchase. I find a way to see that new movie in theaters. I find a way to buy the Patagonia fleece I’ve been wanting from REI. I have, on numerous occasions, spent way too much money on cups of coffee, sharpie pens, and ice-cream cones. I find the money to fly to Chicago for New Years Eve. We usually find a way to live the way that we want. It’s deciding how we want to live and who we want to live for that is vital.
Am I living for myself? Or am I living, remembering that I have a responsibility to others as well? I say that I detest the things happening globally, yet, what actions am I really taking to advocate for that change?
Because wearing a shirt that says ‘Be the change’ means nothing. I must actually be the change. Which requires changing the way that I think and live. Holding the sign for the social justice club and wearing the t-shirt is not enough anymore.
Each day, we are all given an opportunity to be something. I challenge myself to think about what I’m being, and if it isn’t congruent with what I believe–to fill in the blank with something else.
consumer. Be the materialist. Be the thoughtless. Be the self-absorbed.
Instead– Be the giver. Be the advocator. Be the thought-provoked.
Little by little, with small choices. Be the change.