Sunday, 8 May 2016

Modern Day Slavery: Where Can I Buy Clothes?

Bernie Sanders tells us that the Walton family, owners of Walmart, are wealthier than the bottom 40% of the American people. (See video). Yeah, Bernie! Go!

A burning question for ages has been: where do I buy clothes? So much of the garment industry (and other industries) is sooo... unethical. If I don't focus somewhere, I'll hide under my bed with the dust bunnies and not speak or act on anything.

Two summers ago I attended a neighbourhood gathering next door and met a couple who have worked, and work, part-time in Haiti for the Quebec government. Their expertise is in workplace issues such as minimum wages. They told me that Haiti had recently installed a minimum wage, but that the garment industry that shipped to North America was purposely excluded. 

So - as of two years ago, in factories visited,working conditions were abysmal: no potable water or toilets. Break time to eat or for other reasons would cut into the time needed to complete the 300 pieces (or whatever number depending on the articles made) to be completed to get the full $2.00 per day, so breaks were seldom taken. No air circulation, and even though the temperature is not to be above a certain mark, it is often above 30 degrees Celsius.

What can we do?

Want to know more? See links below... if you only have time for one - go for this video below put out by the International Trade Union Confederation in their 2016 report:

Scroll down to # 5 - Walmart video - about 7 minutes...

New ITUC report exposes hidden workforce of 116 million in global supply chains of fifty companies

The report is available in English, Spanish, or French with a click of a button at top right....
Rapport CSI:  International Trade Union Confédération (ITUC)

Rapport au Québec des investissements responsables :

I've heard an argument that it's a privilege for people like me who can afford to shop elsewhere to be critical of Walmart shopping/shoppers- and that the poor need Walmart. But - do we find Walmarts in poorer areas of our cities? Not really. At any rate - maybe people who can afford to stop shopping at Walmart could shop elsewhere. Or speak out. Or ... ideas welcome!

At our diocesan synod the fall of 2014, I asked our then treasurer if we earn from investments in Walmart. He didn't know. Most of our diocesan investments are in something called Anglican Funds run through the national church in Toronto.

At the time, I had discovered directly about the abysmal conditions for people working in the garment factories in my beloved Haiti from my neighbour's firsthand experience rather than hearsay ... the factories aren't btw called Walmart - they supply Walmart and other giants. Those for whom the garments are made are responsible, however, for seeing that working conditions are humane and that people are paid living wages. Not happening.

By synod of 2015, it was discovered that, yes, we do earn from investments in Walmart. 

So, for this year, I had planned to submit a motion to synod 2016 asking that we divest of stocks in Walmart. Unfortunately, I messed up the deadline for submission - thinking it was March 31st when it was March 18th. Sigh. At any rate, I couldn't have had it ready earlier, as I needed to meet with said neighbour for help articulating the motion and she wasn't available. So, once I had the info and a draft, Sophie Rolland took it and made it a clearer motion than I was able to write.

To be honest, I didn't really expect the motion to pass at synod. It was more an opportunity to raise the questions and present information. To DO something. Even if it passed our synod, apparently, to make a change at the national level, it would need to be passed by all dioceses in the Canadian Church. If I understand correctly.

It's heart-breaking.

We're good people. And yet, it's as if we have blood on our hands. I don't know the answers. And please - do not tell me, "At least they have a job." As my neighbour said about that response: "It's a good way to stop the conversation." "At least they have a job," isn't an answer. If you think it makes sense, then we have to agree to disagree.

I don't know the answer(s). I know some will disagree with me. I think the fact that it didn't get in as a motion to synod is probably better - as this way I can share the information and questions to a larger 'audience.' 

So - here's what we came up with. Just FYI - as it's not going to be on the agenda. That's ok now. It got me moving in other directions. ;-) The motion that isn't a motion... ;-) but is filled with important information.

Proposed: Roslyn Macgregor
Seconded: Sophie Rolland

Be it RESOLVED, that this synod asks the Board of Directors of the Anglican Fund to review its criteria for holding stock in corporations engaged in unethical business practices such as Walmart.

1.      The Anglican Fund already has restrictions on owning shares in corporations involved in potentially unethical activities such as the sale or production of tobacco or alcohol.

2.      The Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal has already requested that the Anglican Fund divest of its shares in fossil fuel companies known as the worst polluters.

3.      The Anglican Fund does indeed possess stock in one of the corporations with the worst records on the treatment of its employees; Walmart.

4.      Recognizing that full-time employees at Walmart receive on average salaries well below the federal poverty level.

5.      Recognizing that Walmart has the highest percentage of workers having to rely on government assistance: food stamps, school lunches, medicaid, public housing assistance, etc., …

6.      Recognizing that Walmart explicitly refused to upgrade factory buildings in Bangladesh even after more than 704 workers died in factory fires in 2012 including the 117 workers who died in the largest factory fire in Tazreen in November 2012.

7.      Recognizing that Walmart refused to join a large number of global companies that signed a legally binding agreement supported by the International Labour Organization, the UN and the EU that improved building and fire safety in Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza building collapsed in April 2013, and 1129 workers died.

8.      Recognizing that these cost-saving tactics have been very profitable for the company but have left thousands of workers on the margins of our society and internationally without an appropriate safe work environment or fair working practices.

9.      Recognizing that, as Christians, we are called to protect those on the margins of society not profit from their exploitation.

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