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Bulletin #3: December, 2016

Consider This:

Greed, exploitation and forced labor continue to be significant factors in the U.S. economy, but many of us don’t know where to look to find out more. The exploited are hidden from our sight, in child and forced labor camps in China, India, Africa, South America and many other countries that supply goods for our U.S. markets. We also have exploited workers right here in the U.S. -- in the backs of restaurants, nail salons, farms, massage parlors, in private homes and the like.  When we see an item in the store, it is delivered to us through multiple chains of suppliers.  We call this the “supply chain.”  Often, there is an invisible curtain between each link in the supply chain, giving our retailers the freedom to deny any direct knowledge of exploitation. As a result, the majority of U.S. citizens are unaware of the extent and scope of the forced labor that never actually ended in our economic system from the days of African-American slavery until now.

Here’s An Applicable Scripture:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.  Proverbs 31:8-9

There are no innocent bystanders in God’s Kingdom.  If we see and are aware of an injustice and benefit from it, and do not actively do something to restore justice to the situation, we are as accountable as those who are the direct perpetrators of the injustice.  We have an affirmative duty as Christians to speak up and defend those who cannot defend themselves.

We can pay fair prices when we address our collective greed.

Boston has a storied history of abolitionist movements against slavery and forced labor, of men and women laying down their comfortable lives and speaking up so that others could be liberated. Abolitionism in our generation must follow the same spirit.  Our willingness to speak up loudly for the exploited must be certain, clear and unequivocal. Not only that, we must be willing to make adjustments in our lifestyles to make our actions consistent with our concerns.  The economics of overconsumption and the cyclical wild swings of debt and national recession that come from this can be ended in our generation, starting right here in Boston.  We don’t have to keep up with the stuff our friends have.  We can reduce our expectations and pay a fair price for the things we need and truly want. 

Where does your chocolate come from?

To give a practical example of what we have been discussing above, this month we will study the chocolate industry.  The chocolate industry is heavily accused of trafficking in child and forced labor.  Cocoa farms in places like West Africa (mostly Ghana and the Ivory Coast) produce 70% of the world’s cocoa.  Over the past 15 or so years, investigative journalists have uncovered widespread forced child and adult labor producing the cocoa that we use here in the U.S. -- in popular products such as Nestle, the Hershey chocolates and similar manufacturers.  Workers in many of these places are outright slaves forced to pick the cocoa beans and are whipped and locked in at night.  Some of the children are sold to these farms by family members or are kidnapped and trafficked to the farms to pick the cocoa beans (See links below for more information).  If we decided to collectively change our consumption of chocolate in our region to only companies that ethically source the cocoa beans up the supply chain and speak up clearly and unequivocally about the issue, we will become modern day abolitionists.

Personal Meditation:

Gather with a group of friends and watch the documentaries listed in the “More Information” box below or read some of the recent articles about the issues brewing in the chocolate industry.  Learn about what it means to buy “Fair Trade” or ethically sourced chocolate and other products.  Discuss the issues with each other and how you might change your chocolate consumption based on what you have learned.

Esther Circle Activity:

The United States Department of Labor puts out a list of goods produced in certain countries which are produced using child labor or forced labor.  Click on this link: https://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods/ to browse the U.S. Department of Labor's list of countries actively using forced or child labor and also please take a look at the infographic in the "Useful Links" section below. Do some of the items on the list surprise you?  This Christmas shopping season, can you make an adjustment in your spending as a result of this list?  For example, are you surprised that Christmas decorations produced in China are manufactured using forced labor? At Christmastime, would you feel comfortable praying to the Lord to bless your family, when the very ornaments on your Christmas tree and the toys under your tree are produced by forced labor? Can you help others by fasting for justice and starving out greed in the supply chain?

Extended Activities You Can Do:

Undertake to study 3-4 food industries over the next few months. Make decisions about what your ethically sourced alternative purchases will be and find out what stores they are sold in.  Some ideas to study are sales of coffee, tea, cotton, flowers and plants, sugar, bananas, fresh fruit and nuts to name a few. The U.S. Department of Labor chart below is a helpful guide to other industries to study such as the garment industry, precious metals and the like.  Consider sharing your findings on your social media outlets or writing an article.

Useful Links:

U.S. Department of Labor list of goods produced by child or forced labor

Documentary:  The Darker Side of Chocolate

CNN’s Freedom Project’s Cocoanomics

The Lost Childhoods Behind our Chocolate

Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry

Academic Article on Fair Trade

Infographic on Slave and Forced Labor