Listen Up, Rich Folks

Theology Thought Thursday

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you…. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.

James 5:1, 4-5 (NIV)

Rich people like me need to watch ourselves.

I don’t have employees, but it’s clear to me that I do have “workers”‘. I may be very far removed from them, but there are people who labour to produce everything I buy. The ingredients and raw materials used to make everything – from the food I eat to the electronics I use – need to be harvested or extracted by workers.

It can be overwhelming to think of all the people I might be exploiting, all over the world, for every item I own. Being overwhelmed isn’t helpful. So I’m trying to focus on products that are clearly unnecessary (I “have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence”) and are produced by industries with a bad track record of exploiting labourers, using child labour, and/or doing terrible damage to the environment: sugar, chocolate, coffee, jewellery, etc.

When I started writing this post, I was going to conclude by saying that these are some of the reasons I want to buy only fair-trade certified sugar and chocolate products. However, after just a quick web search for evidence of the fairness of “fair trade”, I’m ready to take back my assumption that this is a true solution, or even a flawed first step.

Ethically, morally, and as someone who wants to follow Jesus’ directive to love others as myself, it seems necessary to me to abstain entirely from buying unneeded items that have a significant chance of systematically harming others in their production. Do fair-trade certified products fit this description? I want to do some more in-depth research, but it’s looking like I may need to refine my sugar goal. My new goal could be a hard pill to swallow for someone as accustomed to self-indulgence as I am.

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