Just Ideas: Buying Sweatshop-Free

April 10, 2008 by

This is part one of a four-part series called “Just Ideas,” looking at ways the church can commit itself to fighting for justice and righteousness in the society around them.

Think sweatshops died out before the turn of the millennium? Think again. Many companies are still producing goods in conditions that are less than fair. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 helped out some, but then globalization led to a rebirth of sweatshops in the 90s and 00s. So here we are today.

For some, buying sweatshop-free is a matter of conviction; they feel there is no other just alternative. For others, the additional cost of buying sweatshop-free is better used elsewhere. But every single church should at least be opening a dialogue about their clothing and where it’s coming from.

The Presbyterian Church takes an official stand on sweatshop-free clothing, helping congregations buy sweatshop-free and offering “hands-on options for congregations to participate in the global economy in faithful, just and responsible ways.”

If you’re interested in buying sweatshop-free, but you aren’t sure where to start, check out the 2008 Shop with a Conscience Consumer Guide or the New American Dream’s list of sweatshop-free resources.

The decisions we make in the things we buy and the systems we support with our money will be more and more important as individuals have more awareness and stronger convictions about social justice. Committing our money to justice and righteousness has to become a priority for every church, or the world will turn a deaf ear to our message.

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Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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8 Responses to “Just Ideas: Buying Sweatshop-Free”

  • Cameron
    April 10, 2008

    Great post, but the last sentence wrecked it for me: ‘Committing our money to justice and righteousness has to become a priority for every church, or the world will turn a deaf ear to our message.’
    Committing ourselves (and by extension, our money) to justice and righteousness is something we should be doing irrespective of whether or not the world listens to our message. Granted, if we don’t seek those values our message is probably wrong and doesn’t deserve to be heard; however, justice and righteousness shouldn’t be seen as a marketing tool.
    Where God finds your heart he will also find your treasure.
    (To be fair, I don’t think you meant that sentence to come over that way. I couldn’t let it go though!)

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  • Joshua Cody
    April 10, 2008

    Thanks so much for pointing that out.
    I completely agree with you that it is our duty to do what God tells us to do, regardless of the world’s reaction.
    You were right in your final sentence that I didn’t hope to come across like that; I think the church, as the bride of Christ, is so far above marketing ruses and “bait-and-switch” methods. There’s a certain beauty and purity in the church, that transcends cowardly ploys.
    That beauty and purity, however, is the very thing that sets us apart from the world. And when the world sees us seeking justice and righteousness, they will likely turn a hearing ear (rather than a deaf ear) to the saving gospel of Christ.
    So don’t seek righteousness as a marketing ploy, but do seek justice in order to make the name of God famous throughout the world.
    If the message we preach doesn’t match up with the message we live, then those in desperate need of Christ will only ignore us. It’s not a ploy, but the way we live and choices we make open doors for Christ!
    Hope that adds a hint of clarity!

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  • keltic
    April 11, 2008

    Wait a minute,
    Doesn’t everyone realize that these people want to work at these “sweatshops?”
    Don’t you realize that if they didn’t they’d work much, much, harder out in the rice patties and fields?
    Don’t you realize that they make more money for themselves working in the factory?
    The same problems that the “postmodernity” and “emergent” crowds harp on “Evangelicals” and “Fundamentalists” in showing their undying patriotism to a country that has forced itself on millions of “natives” in the name of the gospel back in the days of yore is the exact same thing here.
    We are assuming the way of life they should be living. We are assuming that they don’t want to work in the factory. We are assuming that they don’t want there 8 year old working.
    Any wonder why at 18 George Washington was a general in the army and current 18 year olds live with mom and dad?

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  • brad
    April 11, 2008

    Okay, keltic, I’ll bite. I think you’ve raised an interesting point here in foisting our assumptions transcontinentally, but there is still a justice issue at play. The conditions of a sweatshop are pretty ugly. If people are so desperate that working in a sweatshop is attractive, then there is already something wrong. Not supporting working conditions that none of us would voluntarily work in seems like a great starting place for social justice, but that can’t be the end of it.

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  • Cameron
    April 11, 2008

    The same argument was used by people throughout the ‘civilised’ world regarding slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well. If plantation owners let their slaves go, what would they do and where would they go? Everyone knew they were better off under the status quo.

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  • Joshua Cody
    April 13, 2008

    Here’s a great read to advance the dialogue on that issue:
    It’s a great primer on just the debate you’re talking about. Thanks for bringing some counterpoint to this discussion!

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  • keltic
    April 14, 2008

    I haven’t checked out the link yet Josh.
    But, this is so completely different than slavery…VERY DIFFERENT.
    Slaves had no choice, the employees of a “sweatshop” do have an option.
    Should we work to try and better the working conditions?
    But too many people don’t know all the facts.
    I’d argue that we, here in America, have had way too good and that even clouds are judgement.
    No duh, right,

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  • Matt Holley
    April 16, 2008

    It’s good to see a post like this on here. We (www.rumc.org) are currently in a series on social justice called Inside Out. Thanks for the words.

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Social Justice