Q & A: On EMC … sweatshops and more

After the jump, an energetic inquiry from a reader in Mexico about EMC.

I’ll insert my replies in the email:

I, …, of sound reputation (at least of family, friends and former
bosses), a novice missionary in Mexico, a novice wife to a great husband and
an avid reader (at least for the time being) would request a few things of
you, Brian McLaren, author of sound reputation (at least in my Christian
circles), seeker of truth, and writer of some life-changing finds.
1. The next time you go to a sweat shop, I want to go with you. I’m not
kidding. I want to see what it’s like so that my fleeting desires of wanting
new and more fashionable clothes will go away. Please read the blog on sweat
shops here <http://www.notquiteripe.weebly.com>. I really know it sounds
crazy, but if you aren’t planning on going to another one anytime soon, can
you please tell me how I can see one? I’ve also lived in Honduras and of
course, I never knew where to go to find out where they are, although I know
they are both here and there. I want to walk inside one, see with my own
eyes and feel with my own heart. I want to make it personal.

— This is a great question, and I wish I could help. As you can imagine, sweatshop owners aren’t real happy about visitors coming in. The only sweatshops I’ve seen in person were ones recently raided and closed down in Mexico (also in Honduras, if I recall correctly). As I explained in EMC, the situation is really complicated, because a sweatshop job is, for many people, way better than no job at all. For many people, that ends the discussion. But for me, that’s where the discussion gets interesting.
And that’s why I think that fair trade/ethical buying is so important. One of my favorite ethical buying groups is Trade As One. They have a lot of great information on their site. Clothing isn’t their speciality yet, but more and more companies are wanting to sign on as ethical businesses. In The Justice Project, my friend Pamela Wilhelm has an excellent chapter on the subject of ethical business.

2. What do we do? Where can we go to buy clothes? What companies can we buy
from? I have a very small list on our website of places we try to support.
But at this point in our beginning missionary lives, we have little support.
Money is tight most of the time. Unfortunately as much as I hate what
Wal-Mart does to its people, my husband and I find ourselves there to buy
foods, underwear and other basic necessities. Are there other options?

— Another great question. To me, there are three important tracks. First, we need to support companies and stores that exclusively support ethical buying. A great example in the coffee world (the world’s second largest legally traded commodity, I’ve been told) is Just Coffee. Second, shoppers can tell the stores they frequent that they want them to provide fair trade products. (This can be as simple as stopping by the manager’s office and asking, “Do you all do anything to highlight fair trade products? Because I want to practice ethical buying more and more in the future.”) I know that some people are working behind the scenes – even with Wal-Mart – to challenge them to raise their standards. (Again, Pam Wilhelm’s chapter in The Justice Project tells some good stories in this regard.)
Third, and probably most important long term (in my opinion), will be the creation of internationally recognized certifications for fair/transparent trade. There are important steps being taken in this direction – with the development of B-Corps and similar innovations in corporate structure and governance. If you look at almost any food product in the US (and many other countries), it has a little “Nutritional Facts” box. What if, ten or twenty years from now, every article of clothing and every product in general had a similar certification identifying the transparency level of the manufacturing process … or grading the product on its environmental and social responsibility? Today that might sound impossible – but when I was a kid, nobody would have imagined “Nutritional Facts” boxes on all food products or health warnings on cigarette boxes.

3. Brian, I would really encourage you to bring your teachings to Latin
America. I know you mentioned a friend of yours Rene Padilla. I hope you
have more in Latin America. The church here is a mimic of what it was maybe
20 years ago in the States (and still is in many parts). It is very
religious, very judgmental, very conservative. The concepts you present in
your book, Everything Must Change (which I am currently reading and
identifying with on such an abnormal level) is something very needed in
Mexico, Central and South American churches.

— Thank God for Rene, and for the work of La Red del Camino that in many ways translates Rene’s thinking into action.

4. Is your book Everything Must Change available in Spanish?

— Not yet. Maybe you can encourage a Spanish publisher to translate it!

Congratulations on your newest book. I’m excited to read more once I get my hands on some. Thank you for thinking critically and showing me a Jesus I’ve always known was there.

— Thanks for your note and encouragement. We’re all in this together!