slavery

Slavings

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#NZCMS is going to be a little different this year. The biggest change: we’re stepping down to a post each fortnight, aiming for quality over quantity. That means we should be able to provide fresh content each time without relying on ‘re-blogs’ (though we’ll  include occasional articles from our Intermission magazine when the topic is particularly important.)

As it turns out, the latest issue of Intermission was on a very important issue, one I think future generations will look back and judge us on: Slavery. Human trafficking. The fact that there’s more slaves in the world today than at any point in history, despite 200 years of explicitly challenging the whole thing. And Intermission looked at how modern day slavery and the way I shop are woven together like some sort of disturbing tapestry. I made a perhaps obscure comment at the back of the issue so thought I’d tease it out a little further here.

This morning I had the privilege of sitting down over a cup of chai with Peter Mihaere. He runs an organisation called Stand Against Slavery, and we got talking about whether New Zealand could eventually become truly slavery free. That’d mean no slaves or exploited workers here nor anyone trafficked to or from here. It’d also mean no products could be bought here that have in any way been produced by slaves or exploited workers. New Zealand would effectively be a fairtrade country.

The Pope’s goal is to do this globally by 2020… It’s a good goal, but without a huge miracle, it ain’t happening. But what if we started with a small country, an isolated island where borders are pretty easy to control, with a population the size of an ‘average’ city in other parts of the world… I think that’d actually be attainable in our generation if we learn to really work together on this.

The first step? Becoming conscious of the issue at a grass roots level. It needs to become part of regular conversation.

Peter’s challenge to me was to ask, when buying something, whether any slaves were involved in making it. We already know what the answer will be, and I know it’ll make the conversation awkward. “Um… I have no idea… Surely not, right…?” Or perhaps they’ll just look at us funny. But the thing is, how else will people become aware of this problem unless we make this part of daily conversation? If that shop attendant gets asked once, they’ll forget about it. But if it becomes a daily occurrence they’ll start thinking about it. They’ll start asking their manager, who’ll start asking others higher on the food chain. Eventually someone will take notice.

Not alone.

Another side of the equation is making it regular conversation among ourselves. If you’ve tried being a ‘Kingdom shopper’ for a while you’ll know how I often feel. It’s frustrating. It’s challenging. It’s sometimes isolating and disorientating! Many times I’ve wondered whether I can keep it up or whether I should give up trying (which is a crazy thought – should I keep on bothering to care, because of some inconvenience to me, about people who are literally in chains because of what I buy?!).

My life-saver has been the fact that I can talk openly about it with my wife – and slowly but surely there’s others who have joined the conversation. And it’s not just about having people to talk with, but having a shared language. As a rabid Simpsons fan, a line from Krusty has enabled Mari and I to make this all-too-serious topic part of daily conversation. He’s up on a stage promoting his new line of t-shirts (watch the video from 30seconds – it’s a terrible quality video, but it’s much better hearing the quote than reading it.)

“Slavings.” It’s not even a word, and I’m not quite sure how it happened, but it’s now part of our daily vocabulary. When we’re out shopping and one of us is interested in something that almost certianly has dubious origins: “Have you considered the slavings?” When we’re watching TV ads and a too-good-to-be-true deal comes on: “There’s some amazing slavings.” Mari’s been after a nutra-bullet for a while, but whenever a special came up the word “slavings” kept us from acting. (She’s found one on trademe, so all is well with our smoothies).

I’m not sure what these conversations sound like to other ears, but this one simple word has kept at the forefront of our minds the reality of exploited workers across the world. It’s changing how we shop. It’s changing how we view advertising. It’s changing how we talk. It’s changing our family’s priorities. It’s changing our plans and dreams for the future. One word that isn’t even a word!

 

THE MUSE

What can you do to make the harsh realities of human trafficking and worker exploitation part of daily conversation?

 

THE MOVE

Challenge yourself: the next time your shopping ask someone whether the product has been in any way made by slaves.

 

#NZCMS is all about exploring what it means to be God’s missional people in today’s world. Sign up for the emailer by filling in your email at the top of the page or join the discussion at the #NZCMS Facebook Group (and turn on ‘all notifications’ to stay in the loop!) 

 

Image by Charles Rodstrom on Flickr.

Slave Wars (Issue 26)

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By Peter J. Mihaere

This summer the world was treated to the long awaited Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s the story of the age-old battle of good versus evil, where evil is conquered once and for all – or so we thought – and the search for the last Jedi knight enchants a whole new generation into its spellbinding story. The movie included the rise of the First Order from the remnant of the Galactic Empire as well as the Republic backed Resistance, who help an unlikely bunch of ragtag heroes.

As I watched the movie it brought to mind another Order that’s thriving in our midst across the world today, even here in Aotearoa New Zealand, an order that we thought was conquered and extinguished over two hundred years ago. It’s an order that forces people into an activity, held against their will, by some form of control for the gain or profit of those in control of that person. What I’m referring to here is modern-day slavery, human trafficking and severe worker exploitation. This new order has bewitched governments, corrupted business, and enslaved men, women, and children in every country in the world. Worse, it has seduced you and I to be involved in ways we’re not even aware.

Thankfully this order has an enemy – the Abolition Resistance. The resistance has been fighting the Slave Wars for decades. However, the resistance is unsophisticated, poorly coordinated and under resourced. Where there is sophistication it’s very specific and only has the ability to help a few of the 36 million people trapped in slavery around the world. Where there is coordination, it’s often short-lived because of well-meaning but stubborn people and individualistic organisations choosing to go at it alone, diminishing the power of collective impact. Where there are resources, they’re either feverishly protected, or they’re given unrealistic return-on-investment criteria, without understanding and supporting the long and arduous task it is to successfully fight for a slave free world.

Those in the Abolition Resistance hang on to one belief: that it’s an inalienable right of every man, woman and child to be free. To achieve that right it searches to awaken the Abolition Force within each of us. Unlike Star Wars, this force is not confined to a special few; rather it sits deep within every single one of us and it needs to be awakened.

The fight for freedom is losing ground; the new order is growing and is predicted to become the most lucrative criminal activity in the world over the next few years. The International Labour Organisation estimates that slavery and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry, so we’re up against an incredibly well resourced order.

The driving force

So what drives modern-day slavery? Simply put, it’s the need for self-gratification and a relentless pursuit for more.

Sadly today there’s an unquenchable appetite for sex, and this is fuelled by our moral depravity as a species. There’s an unlimited supply of human beings – particularly women and children – to satisfy the demand of every imaginable sexual sin. Nothing is too saucy for the menu for predominantly men – but not solely – who think it’s their right to do whatever they want to another human being for a few moments of self-gratification. Even here in New Zealand, if you look in the right places, you can get exactly what you want, when you want it, if you’re willing to pay the price.

The pursuit of more is subtler. There are of course those who will do anything to make millions for themselves, but something is happening in the general populace that’s equally concerning. Much of the world seems to insist we all have a right to ‘get more for less.’ We demand higher quality while expecting to pay less for the products we buy and consume.

As an example, when we see a sign in a shop – 2 T-shirt’s for $10 – we immediately think of it as a bargain, or worse, think it’s about time. I’m a Director of a freedom business in India, and I know that to make a T-shirt ensuring everyone, including the factory worker, gets a fair deal costs around $6 to make. To import that T-shirt into NZ brings the cost up to around $12 and a retailer will put on their normal mark-up, selling the product to the consumer for around $20 to $25. So if you can buy two T-shirts for $10 something is wrong, isn’t it? Sure, you could say that volume causes the price per unit to go down, and you could say that the sale was a clearance or end of line, and there’s an element of truth in this, but often these types of products are always ‘2 for 10 bucks.’ This means that some of the cost variables have changed. The easiest variable to change in manufacturing is the labour cost, compared to the costs of plant and machinery or the raw materials to make the product. Therefore, if you buy 2 T-shirts for $10 it is highly possible you are contributing to exploitation because that garment was made by a slave. I know you don’t really want me to say this, but you and I perpetuate slavery by demanding more for less.

A God of justice

While we get more, someone somewhere is getting less. As the people of God this becomes an issue of justice. In his book, Justice Awakening: How You and Your Church Can Help End Human Trafficking, Eddie Byun states clearly that “God commands his people to do justice and to hold onto it with all their might.” When we read well known passages like Micah 6:8 (“and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God?”) it’s not a mix and match as you might fancy. It’s a collective statement that requires all three elements to happen at the same time. Buying 2 T’s for $10 is not doing justice; therefore it’s not walking humbly with God. Now that’s a sobering thought.

The most disturbing verses I’ve read recently are found in a passage in Revelation 18. The passage has sometimes been controversial, but regardless of how you read it there’s something we can all agree on. It describes merchants who have become rich because of the excesses of ‘Babylon’ (sound familiar?), and then offers a long list of products these merchants were selling. And what’s the last item these merchants are trading: “slaves, that is, human souls” (v13 ESV)! This verse is the closest description to modern-day slavery I’ve found in the whole Bible, and what’s abundantly clear from the passage is that God absolutely detests it. Human beings are not a commodity to be traded or exploited for profit!

Peter Mihaere is the CEO of Stand Against Slavery, a New Zealand Baptist Justice Initiative providing advocacy and consulting services on the issue of slavery, human trafficking and exploitation here in New Zealand and around the world. For more information email peter@standagainstslavery.com or phone (09) 526 6361.

 

For discussion

Open the Bible and discuss what God says about the plight of the marginalised and how we’re called to respond. Notice how consistent the themes are throughout the whole Bible.

Some passages to get your started: Proverbs 14:31; Isaiah 58:6-11; Micah 6:8; Zechariah 7:8-10; Psalm 12:5; Luke 4:16-19; Luke 6:20-26; 1 John 3:17; Luke 10:25-37; Matthew 25:31-46; Deuteronomy 15:4-5, 7-8, 10-11; Amos 5:21-24; Leviticus 19:15; James 2:14-17; Galatians 2:10.

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.

From the Editor (Issue 26)

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How will future generations talk about today’s world? What will we be remembered by? Perhaps at the top of the list will be the fact we could sleep soundly at night while millions were enslaved worldwide… largely because of our own greed! Maybe we’ve forgotten that we’re made in the image of a God who calls us to “let justice roll down like a river” (Amos 5:24), to “do justice and love kindness” (Micah 6:8), to “defend the rights of the afflicted and needy” (Proverbs 31:8).

While much could be said about modern-day slavery, forced-labour and human-trafficking, this issue focuses narrowly on the role we play in this global problem. We’re digging down, seeking to uncover the truth beneath the barcode, looking at where the things we buy actually come from and how our shopping often contributes to the suffering of many worldwide.

Slavery is a complex beast and we’ll only scratch the topic’s surface, but we want to make one thing abundantly clear: we all have the choice to either contribute or to challenge it. Sometimes living missionally involves changing simple aspects of our lives, such as how we shop.

 

Issue 26 of Intermission was released earlier this month. Over the coming weeks the articles will be posted to nzcms.org.nz/intermission. Occasionally we will highlight an article by including it in our weekly Interchange newsletter.

How Many Slaves Will Be Working For You This Christmas?

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By Peter Mihaere. Reblogged from StandAgainstSlavery.com

Have you ever wondered how many slaves work for you? Of course you haven’t, why would you? There’s no one living in the cupboard beneath your stairs or chained in your basement. There’s no stranger in your house cooking, cleaning, gardening or doing other unmentionable tasks for you and your family. What a ridiculous question to ask!

You’re a good person and you live a good life. You don’t bother or hurt people, let alone have them as slaves, and you give to the disadvantaged in your neighbourhood or support the poor overseas. Some of you even support anti-slavery organisations in a variety of ways.

But here’s the thing… even though all of the above is true, and as terrible as it is for me to say, I’m willing to stick my neck out and suggest that you have slaves working for you just like I have slaves working for me. Let me offer a brief explanation.

 

Recently I typed in some very basic information into a website and it calculated that 51 slaves work for me. Slaves working for me—no way! But, as I began to think about it, I realised that I don’t have a clue where all the things I have accumulated over the years—in my house and life—come from.

Where do my gadgets, clothes, appliances and food come from? Can I put my hand on my heart and say that no slaves were involved in their making?  I remember talking to someone about small petrol generators and where they come from. I asked if they were slave free and the immediate response was, “the company I deal with is a good company and they wouldn’t have slaves.” Then I asked, “see that bolt, way underneath the head of the generator, do you know where that bolt was made and by whom?” Of course my friend couldn’t answer that question to any level of satisfaction thereby leaving room for some doubt.

Let’s bring this closer to home. The NZ media have published a number of articles in recent weeks about employers who have not been paying their staff correctly or at all in the restaurant industry. The accused businesses have been fined significant amounts of money. Believe it or not this is happening in the horticulture, agriculture, viticulture and construction industries.

In November, the 2014 Global Slavery Index report was published citing New Zealand as having 600 slaves. Walk Free Foundation, the producers of the Global Slavery Index report, announced a dramatic increase in the number of slaves in the world this year. Attributing their number to improving data collection, they estimate the number of slaves in the world at 36 million. That’s a six million increase on numbers in the 2013 report. These numbers continue to stagger me as I try to reconcile them for myself. That’s 1 in 200!

Maybe they are the slaves that produce the components for some of my technology, perhaps some of those slaves make the clothes I wear, or maybe some of those slaves serve in the restaurants I frequent, or pick fruit and veggies I purchase.

Let’s test this idea a little. Do you like bananas? Yes, of course you do. So which bananas do you buy? Can you confirm that no exploited worker or slave picked or processed or shipped the bananas you are now eating in your banana and chocolate muffins? Chocolate—now there’s an ingredient more familiar to us—is the chocolate in the muffins slave free? Some chocolate, like bananas, is in fact slave free or fair trade, but most are not. Just because a chocolate company can legitimately put the Fair Trade label on one product does not automatically confirm that all chocolate from that company is Fair Trade or slave free. It’s a good step in the right direction, but it’s a long way off being acceptable.

Let me ask you the question again, how many slaves work for you? As we enter into the Christmas season can I encourage you to think about that question? Purchasing of products skyrockets this time of the year. Perhaps slaves, not elves, have been working all year so that you and I can enjoy the presents beneath the Christmas tree and the food we will mount up on our tables. How many slaves will help you this Christmas?

 

#NZCMS is all about exploring what it means to be God’s missional people in today’s world. Sign up for the emailer by filling in your email at the top of the page or join the discussion at the #NZCMS Facebook Group (and turn on ‘all notifications’ to stay in the loop!) 

 

Thanks to Peter for letting us share this blog. For more from Stand Against Slavery click here.

 

Note on the Featured Image:

This image was snapped from a 2-minute video produced by film students at Hothouse Productions, Boston University College of Communication. Now You Know was devised in close collaboration with the client, The NO Project, a global anti-slavery public awareness initiative. See it here.