Work should provide dignity, not death
In his homily this morning, Pope Francis spoke about the clothing factory that collapsed in Bangladesh last week. The Holy Father expressed outrage - not only that more than 400 Bangladeshi workers died in the accident - but also that those workers were earning somewhere around 38 Euro, (about $50) a month for their labor in dangerous conditions. "Today many social, political and economic systems have chosen to exploit the human person" in the workplace, Francis said, by "not paying a just (wage), not offering work, focusing solely on the balance sheets, the company's balance sheets, only looking at how much I can profit. This goes against God!"
Of course, as I write this from my safe, well-lit, and well-ventilated office, I am wearing a sweater made in China and a dress made in Indonesia. I can say with some degree of confidence that the hands that made my clothes were not paid justly. According to Pope Francis, this is an affront to human dignity, and it deserves to be acknowledged today, which is International Workers Day as well as the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
This morning, NPR ran a piece asking what we in the United States might be willing to pay for fairly manufactured and traded clothing. The answer seems to be, "a little more, up to a point." People seem willing to buy "ethical" socks, so long as it doesn't cost them too much. As soon as the price jumped even by 5-10%, people were back to buying the socks of murky ethical origin.
It is, of course, a problem without an easy solution. But it is a problem that deserves our attention, just as the collapse of the factory in Bangladesh deserves our outrage.
"How many people worldwide are victims of this type of slavery, in which the person is at the service of his or her work," says (or work?” asks) Pope Francis. "Work should offer a service to people so they may have dignity."
For more reading about worker's justice, see the U.S. Catholic Interview with founder and director of Interfaith Worker Justice, Kim Bobo. Also see Practical resources for fighting wage theft.