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Costing someone something somewhere…

September 25, 2010

In our first morning session at Reconciler’s Weekend this morning, Chris Heuertz shared with us a challenging story about his friend Sujana — a story that reflects how our individual “consumption causes violence” in our world today.

Chris and his wife Phileena met Sujana when they were working in South India. Sujana and her sisters work in a garmet factory that supplies clothing to brand name stores in the United States. During one visit, Sujana recognized a shirt that Chris was wearing — a red, button-down shirt from a brand name store.

The first question Sujana asked Chris: “Let me see the tag.”

Chris cringed when Sujana examined the shirt and recognized the label on the inside. She wanted to know how much Chris paid for a shirt she had spent many hours carefully sewing for very little compensation.

“My heart sank; I felt ashamed and uncomfortable,” Chris writes in his co-authored book with Christine Pohl, Friendship at the Margins. “I knew that the forty dollars I had paid for that shirt was more than she earns in an entire month.”

This story illustrated to us how the “plunder of the poor is in our homes.” Moments like these are difficult but life-changing. They force us to not just observe that our consumption choices cost “someone somewhere something,” as Chris said, but to try to do something about those choices.

Outside of friendships, Chris told us, we can’t engage this issue or work toward reconciliation.

Chris offered one way he and Phileena have decided to engage with their friends. They came up with something called PRET (Personal Retail Equality Tax). Each time they buy clothes from a store supplied by Sujana’s factory, they charge themselves an extra amount and at the year’s end, they give that surplus to Sujana and her family when they visit her.

“We pay it forward to them. We remind them that we don’t want to exploit them in this world that we are a part of,” Chris said.

Chris recongizes that a personal social tax does not “fix the problem,” but it does allow him and Phileena to work within the reality of a culture that has garment factories that exploit their friends across the world. It moves him and Phileena into a consumption pattern that is informed by their relationships.

When we can begin to think about how our purchases exploit, cause violence against or oppress our friends throughout society, our consumption choices should and will change. Thoughts?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Robin permalink
    September 25, 2010 4:07 pm

    It is hard to live justly in this world without exploiting others. As I have become aware of child slavery used to produce coffee and chocolate and unfair labor practices in the fields of America and the world I am often uncertain on how best to proceed. I don’t want my actions and my life to cause violence and harm to others but it seems impossible not to be contributing to it. I don’t even know sometimes how my life is hurting others.

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