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Test Your Social Justice IQ

This Social Justice IQ was published Sunday, October 7, 2001, on page E1 in the Sunday Magazine of The Morning Call. The Morning Call is located in Allentown PA. The reporter was Joanna Poncavage.



1. Which is the most socially just: a Chiquita, a Dole or a Del Monte banana?

Sometimes a banana is just a banana, but sometimes it's a symbol of the downside of globalization. A growing proportion of bananas are produced by workers who lack health care or wages high enough to feed their families, and who are exposed to pesticides, says Stephen Coates, executive director of the US/Labor Education in the Americas Project (www.usleap.org).

In June, Chiquita, the largest producer of bananas in the world, signed a contract with its unions to respect workers' rights. "Neither Dole nor Del Monte has discussed these issues with Colsiba," the Latin American Coordinating Committee of Banana Workers' Unions, says Coates. The contract was the result of a two-year campaign and was a "very significant breakthrough," he adds.

According to "Bananas: An American History" by Virginia Scott Jenkins (Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000), we eat 75 bananas per person each year, more than any other fruit. The major U.S. banana-importing companies were among the first multinational corporations.




2. A "slave-free" label has been proposed in Congress for which of the following?

  1. The Big Mac
  2. Chocolate
  3. Cotton


A two-month investigation by Knight Ridder reporters earlier this year found children as young as 11, sold or tricked into slavery, laboring on cocoa farms in Africa's Ivory Coast, which supplies 43 percent of the world's cocoa. The beans harvested by youngsters are made into chocolate products that appear in groceries everywhere.

"The big chocolate companies -- Archer Daniels Midland, M&M Mars, Hershey, Nestle -- all use cocoa from the Ivory Coast," says Debora James, fair-trade director for the human rights group Global Exchange.

The United Nation's International Labor Organization in June reported that tens of thousands of children are being exploited. In August, the U.S. State Department said there are as many as 15,000 child slaves in Ivory Coast.

A documentary, in part financed by HBO and based on "Disposable People," a book by Kevin Bales (University of California Press, 2000) was shown in the United States, but the part about child slavery on cocoa farms in West Africa was cut out, says James.

According to Bales' book, the new slavery is linked to several factors: an enormous population explosion over the past three decades; poor farmers dispossessed by economic globalization and modernized agriculture, and corruption and violence associated with rapid economic changes in developing countries.




3. What is the "race to the bottom?"

  1. A new Olympic swimming event.
  2. A new reality-based TV show about competitive socially incorrect behavior.
  3. The tendency of corporations to seek out the countries with the cheapest labor and fewest safety and environmental regulations to produce their products.

In "The Race to the Bottom: Why a Worldwide Worker Surplus and Uncontrolled Free Trade are Sinking American Living Standards" (Westview Press, 2000), Alan Tonelson explains how countries with the weakest workplace safety laws, the lowest taxes, and the toughest unionization laws win investment from American and European countries. Tonelson, an economist active in national trade politics, argues that this "race to the bottom" lowers American living standards and causes even bigger problems for the world economy.




4. When Harvard students staged a sit-in at the university president's office early in 2001, they were protesting:

  1. The university's endowment fund's investments in tobacco stocks.
  2. The university's janitor wages.
  3. The firing of a professor who took students on a field trip to a crack house.

In 1998, Cambridge City Council instituted a living wage ordinance for all city employees. Harvard University, the largest employer in Cambridge, continued to pay 1,000 custodial and dining-hall workers as low as $6.50 per hour without benefits.

After an unsuccessful two-year campaign to convince the university to pay its workers a living wage, 30 students in the school's Progressive Student Labor Movement moved into the president's office building in protest. One month later, the university agreed to raise the pay of the workers to $10.25 per hour.

The concept behind the living wage is that people who work in a community should be paid enough for them to live there decently. According to the Living Wage Resource Center (www.livingwagecampaign.org), many campaigns have defined it as equivalent to the poverty line for a family of four (currently $8.20). Standards vary by region, but they are all considerably higher than the federal minimum wage, which puts a parent with one child below the federal poverty line.




5. What's a fair price for a pound of coffee?

  1. $6.95
  2. $3.45
  3. $1.26

A fair price for coffee isn't what you pay in the grocery store, it's what the coffee farmer is paid. Available in Europe for more than a decade and recently in the United States, "fair-trade" coffee has been purchased directly from coffee farmers for $1.26 per pound, instead of less than 50 cents.

According to Transfair USA (www.transfairusa.org), an agency that certifies fair-trade practices, coffee is the second largest trade commodity in the world, next to oil. An estimated 80 percent of Americans drink coffee.

Ten years ago, the world coffee economy was worth $30 billion, of which producers received $12 billion. Today, it is worth $50 billion, with producers receiving just $8 billion, according to the Fair Trade Coffee Campaign of Global Exchange.

Last year, Starbucks became the first U.S. company to agree to a "code of conduct," promising it would tell its suppliers that in order to sell to Starbucks, they must pay workers a decent wage and respect their rights. Many gourmet coffee companies now offer fair-trade products, too, says Deborah James, fair trade director for Global Exchange, including the Bucks County Coffee Co. in Langhorne (800-523-6163). More are listed on the Global Exchange Web site (www.globalexchange.org).

Fair-trade coffee is more "bird-friendly," too. According to Transfair, fair trade-certified coffee is more likely to be grown on small, family farms under trees that provide habitat for songbirds. These farmers also tend to avoid pesticides.




6. Agree or disagree?

  1. Congress should make it easier for corporations to relocate to areas where the average wage is less than $4 per day.
  2. Governments should be required to pay damages if environmental laws cut into a corporation's potential profit.
  3. Governments should be forced to end public subsidies for public education and health care because they unfairly compete with for-profit schools and hospitals.

Too late: The North American Free Trade Agreement already allows the first two conditions. "They allow corporations to do end runs around labor and environmental laws that we have in this country," says Mike Prokosch, global economy coordinator for United for a Fair Economy (www.ufenet.org), a grassroots campaign that concentrates on public education about the economy.

As for the third condition, it also will become a reality if NAFTA becomes the Free Trade Area of the Americas by expanding to all of the other 31 countries in the Western Hemisphere (excluding Cuba, of course).

From a social justice position, trade agreements like these start the "race to the bottom," which makes working people compete against working people to see who is going to work for the least money, says Prokosch. "The global economy isn't making countries richer, because they are giving up taxes for the new plants, they are letting corporations pollute, and all they are getting is low wages."




7. Which of the following labels can you buy to avoid clothing made in a sweatshop?

  1. Gap
  2. Banana Republic
  3. Abercrombie & Fitch.

Trick question. All of the above have been challenged for controversial production practices. "Unless it has a union label, you are hard-pressed to find a piece of clothing that is not made under horrible conditions," says Joan Axthelm of the U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project (www.usleap.org). The Department of Labor recently said that half of all clothing made in the United States is made under sweatshop conditions, she adds.

The apparel, textile and footwear industries employ the largest work force of any manufacturing industry in the world, with more than 29 million people in more than 150 countries. Many of these garment workers get less than $1 an hour, and work 12 or more hours per day, according to the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (www.uniteunion.org).




8. What did The New York Times call "the biggest surge in campus activism in nearly two decades?"

  1. The student anti-sweatshop movement.
  2. Campus-based groups lobbying for an Equal Rights Amendment.
  3. An electronic forum that promotes freedom of speech on the Internet.

Students on more than 200 campuses in the United States and Canada are asking: "Was our college sweatshirt made in a sweatshop?" They have staged sweatshop fashion shows, sweat-ins, knit-ins and other creative protests to demand that their schools take responsibility for the conditions under which their licensed apparel is made.

The Web site of the Worker Rights Consortium, the sweatshop watchdog group, has a database that tells students where their college clothes come from (www.workersrights.org).





Reporter Joanna Poncavage 610-820-6754
joanna.poncavage@mcall.com
ęcopyright 2001 THE MORNING CALL Inc.

Published October 7th, 2001 The Morning Call, Inc.,
Allentown, PA. Reprinted with permission of the Morning Call.
http://www.mcall.com









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