Friday, November 02, 2007

Ending Economic Slavery

Two centuries after the British parliament passed the bill outlawing the transatlantic slave trade, one might expect that enough time had passed to eradicate slavery completely. Tragically, slavery persists in the world in greater and lesser degrees around the world today. In Nepal, families in abject poverty will sell their daughters into the sex trade in Thailand. Elsewhere the promise a job in a foreign country can turn into the nightmare of forced labor in a factory without even knowing where you have been taken. While these extreme examples are isolated, forces at work in the global economy are creating what the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches sees as the equivalent of slavery.

The recent meeting of WARC produced a statement that said in part, “We live in a scandalous world that denies God’s call to life for all. The annual income of the richest one per cent is equal to that of the poorest 57 per cent, and 24,000 people die each day from poverty and malnutrition.” This extreme income disparity can all too easily be manipulated by the unscrupulous rich to so control the lives of the desperate poor to indeed be a form of slavery. People of goodwill cannot ethically remain idle and silent while the distribution of the world's resources means luxury for a few and suffering and death for multitudes. People of faith who embrace the story of the Hebrew Exodus should also understand the consistent demand of their faith to seek economic justice. Time and again, God's chosen people are reminded not to be like the Egyptians who enslaved their ancestors through the accumulation of wealth. In the story, during the time of famine only Egypt had stores of food. As peoples came from far away to buy from Egypt they eventually had to offer all their labor for their very existence. This was what Moses led the people out of, yet they didn't learn the lesson and had to be reminded not to enslave their fellow Israelites once in the Promised Land. The practice of the Jubilee Year (Leviticus 25) involved releasing slaves, forgiving debts and returning land to those who has sold it so that the original balance of wealth and resources could be restored. The Hebrew Bible seems to understand that extreme wealth will lead to slavery.

As we in America struggle with the question of what to do with immigration, we should be careful not to ignore the influence that wealth disparity plays in luring the poor of other nations to come here to work for slave wages. Using the threat of deportation to exploit workers is exactly the sort of sin that the ancient prophets decried repeatedly. It is wrong to ignore the behavior of the oppressor and focus only on the illegal actions of the oppressed. Would it make more sense to punish the parents who sold their daughter to brothel or to work to end the sex trade? Until the day when sharing by all means scarcity for none we will need to use the rule of law to combat exploitation.


David J. Spuria said...

I applaud your sentiment here, but I would add that we still need laws to protect those who are injured by immigrants who come here without understanding the culture of the dynamics of American life. There also needs to be a real path to citizenship which includes education in, and of this culture. We can't be "united we stand" unless we continue to be the great melting pot we once were. And yes, god knows no boundaries in His love for all humans. I think our challange is to do both. To give those who have nothing a chance to earn something without offending the rest of us who are also trying to earn something. Does that make sense?

mkz said...

I feel that half the immigration problem is the lure of employment cast by our nations economic sector. The dual facts that they are not held accountable for their illegal activity in harboring criminals,substandard wages, Social Security and tax deduction evasion, and poor safety standards, coupled with their powerful influence on elected officials to maintain the status quo that they may keep a ready supply of cheap, near slave labor are holding in check any real progress on resolving the issue. Once businesses are held to the standard of the current laws, charged and fined for each infraction, this practice will no longer be profitable, and so they will not likely hire illegals. Without this attraction, a great many of these people will not cross our boarders in defiance of our laws, and steal the benefits and services that U.S. citizens pay for with their tax dollars all their working lives. I feel that we need to overhaul our present immigration system, so that those who truly want to work in our nation, not smuggle drugs, enlist in gangs, and live off the system can enter a little more easily, gain legal employment at standard wages, and pay into the system as every citizen should. This would allow them to build a future for themselves and their families as legal immigrants have done in America for over a century, free from the exploitation they, and we as taxpayers suffer today.