Last year around this time, Nathan George from Trade as One spoke here in Concord. He made a compelling (and overwhelming) case for rethinking consumer habits. In his estimation, the majority of clothes worn in the room that night were products of an exploitative manufacturing system; a system in which workers often labored for un-livable wages and at times labored for no pay at all. He told stories of children who would work the rest of their lives to pay a man who loaned their parents money at an interest rate that was impossible for them to pay back.
Shortly after the the Trade As One event, I overheard this conversation between two men who had attended:
A. Did you like it?
B. I don’t know if I liked it but it was really powerful. What’d you think?
A. I thought it was unrealistic.
B. You mean, you don’t think those things happen with kids?
A. No, I guess that part happens… It’s just really frustrating, you know? I mean.. as if I’m supposed to rifle through all my drawers and closets to see which of my clothes was made by slaves. I’d have to change everything.
B. Right. But I think that’s the point. We have to live differently now.
The more I learn about modern day slavery, the more I find my fingerprints all over the crime scene. The fact that I am either ignorant of or comfortable with the cost of my consumer comforts is what sets the stage for nine-year-old girls to be trafficked for sex; the bottom line being that my way of life is worth whatever it costs someone else. The line between directly using someone for instant gratification and indirectly using someone so that I can pay less for products is nowhere near as thick as I once thought.
Nathan George’s challenge is to take this connection seriously. If I want to participate in the redemptive, healing arc of justice, seeing people set free from a life of slavery, it will cost me to do so. I cannot just live my life and then, at times, do justice because I can’t just do justice, I have to live it. When Sara and Troy Groves heard about the work of IJM to bring rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression, they approached founder Gary Haugen and asked “What can we do?” Gary responded “Become a person of Justice.”