Katrina & The Waifs
B U Right Back
Little Children Come
Eat Your Greens
Van Diemen's Land
Bring Me To Life
2006 03 02
I've just been watching Katherine Hamnett being interviewed on the BBC about organic cotton.
My interest was piqued because this is at least the second time today the subject came up in the media.
Katherine made an interesting observation:
"There's no such thing as cheap clothes. We may not pay a lot for them but the cost is paid for in the human suffering of the farmers and environmental damage".
This statement came at the end of the interview / discussion with politicians who observed that consumer choice might begin to achieve what governments struggle to. The use of the word 'organic' was troublesome as most people connect it to food and yet here they were talking about clothing. It transpired that African textile farmers growing 'organic' realize similar crop yields without being tied financially to the purveyors of artificial fertilisers with the resultant impact on profits.
Environmental impact is also greatly reduced as artificial fertilisers often work their way into and poison the water supply. Africa doesn't have the universal industrial water processing we do and so this is an issue. Generating the energy to power the plants would be another.
It was fascinating to hear someone see off the argument that the developing world needs our farming chemicals to increase production.
By creating a market in the west for 'organic' cotton this secured sales for these farmers at fair trade prices - a further increase in income levels.
Of course, this scenario is familiar to many who have become educated around the issues of Fair Trade.
Fairly traded coffee and chocolate have become such important market segments that even Nestle is getting in on the act.
Our education in these matters owes a lot to the Make Poverty History and Trade Justice campaigns of the charities previously involved with Jubilee 2000.
It's interesting to see the word justice applied in this way and entirely appropriate. 'Just' means fair and upright, right and proper. Once upon a time those were values at the heart of this nation.
I am somewhat acquainted with the Criminal Justice System and those caught up in it. Over the years Christian faith communities in various countries have pioneered a radical approach to criminal justice now known as Restorative Justice.
Our traditional system is retributive, focusing on the offender and exacting retribution on them for the wrong done. Punishment. Our old way of thinking is that the offender is the only one involved in the offence. The victim is replaced by the State and neither does the community where the offence was committed have any involvement.
Just like blindly buying a cheap T-shirt from Tesco, this way of thinking ignores much of the reality. In the same way we can understand that cheap T-shirts cost us all quite a lot, Restorative Justice sees whole communities take responsibility for what has happened and putting it right.
Of course the offender will still make restitution for the crime just as the farmer still has to work hard in his field. The difference is the effort towards wholeness.
The simple example is little Zacchaeus (Lu19:1-9). Restored to the community he was ostracised from because of his wrong doing, he gladly made restitution for his wrongs. Afterwards everyone was better off (x4 what they'd lost) and the community was made whole. Perhaps even the root of his crimes, being taunted for being small, was finally dealt with? Surely this made more sense than stringing him up or putting him in the stocks for an afternoon - this would only have made him more bitter and brought deeper division and hurt to an already damaged community.
RJ looks at the kids running round the streets and asks, why? Aren't the parents able to cope? Don't the children want to be in those homes? Is there a lack of provision / facilities? How can the young people be allowed to earn dignity and respect from their community in repaying for their anti-social behaviour rather than make them more rebellious and excluded? In addition, the responsibility is owned by the whole community to address the issues at the root of the problems. This of course costs everyone time and perhaps money but is cheap compared to the price paid otherwise.
It's easy to see only our own need for a cheap T-shirt and miss the international impact of our individualistic approach. It's just as easy to scapegoat the offender rather than own up to a collective responsibility for things breaking down socially.
I believe it's no accident that RJ springs from the Christian faith community.
Other faiths might imagine we offenders are putting things right through our own suffering but my God is a God who looked at a world of offence and rather than just blame and punish us He accepted that to put things right it would cost Him dearly. He embraced the cross.
We are called to carry our own, our pioneering lives costing us dearly as we work to bring wholeness and restoration to a broken world.
Perhaps this can even influence the credit card, T-shirt or coffee we choose and more importantly who we judge to be our neighbour.
© cag 2006