Several years ago I wrote a thesis for my MBA program. I was curious to explore the relationship between myself, my stuff, and how both are related to the greater world beyond my little bubble of existence. I titled it: Global Supply Chains and the Commandment to Love One’s Neighbor as Oneself. Feel free to read it if you wish.
I wrote the thesis several years before I became Catholic. I knew nothing of Catholic social teaching then. If I had known about Catholic social teaching I think my thesis would have been significantly better. Nonetheless, the process had an impact on me, and allowed me to explore ideas that had been ruminating in my subconsciousness for several years. Back then I was influenced, among other sources, by Naomi Klein‘s book No Logo.
Now I find the excellent documentary The True Cost speaking to the same issues. It’s like nothing has changed — except perhaps there are now more people thinking about these problems. And, there are some companies working to be different. Naturally these companies are small, but they are a start.
Global supply chains, with all their related and inherent moral implications, are deeply interwoven into every aspect of our lives. We cannot extricate ourselves from them, nor do we want to. It’s not about running away, but about change. We need to make choices that matter, that reflect who we want to be, and that are born out of a fundamental desire to love each other, to love the “other” our neighbor. We can actually make better global supply chains — better in terms of how laborers are treated, of how the earth is used, as well as efficiencies and more appropriate costs. However, we are generally disinclined to do so because inherent in the nature of global supply chains is their ability to hide the implications of our consumer choices from view. Combine that with human nature and we have a recipe for exploitation of both human labor and their environments.
I can say from personal observation that Americans (U.S. citizens I should say) often do not like to know how much their consumer choices are tied to unfair exploitation of others. They bristle when told. They make up and believe falsehoods when confronted. It’s shameful.
As the general manager of a small company, I am interested in these issues. We are just now beginning to have the kinds of conversations that may lead us to consider ethical sourcing more than we ever have. Our business is based on doing good for the world. We sell and market art supplies, and our focus has been on the importance of art and artmaking to health, personal growth, education, and world peace. Considering our supply chain in terms of ethics and the wellbeing of both labor and environment fits right in to what we believe. I am curious about what we can do.
As a Catholic, I have come to see that these issues are very much at the heart of what I believe, how I should behave, and who I am following — namely, Christ. So it is a personal thing for me as well.