First up, what brands are ethical? Well Nestle is definately out and so is Coca Cola...but can you be so sure? Check out this website for what people in 5 different countries regard as ethical companies...prepare to be surprised:
So, how do we make judgements about what companies are ethical and which are not? Either we do tons of research (very time consuming and hardly practical) or we opt out of the whole High Street thing altogether and buy from retailers we know have sourced their products. By the way, "The Good Shopping Guide" (Ethical Marketing Group) is an excellent way to find out which companies are ethical and which are not.
Then we looked at a few case studies and discussed them. These can be found at:
I think the last of these raised another interesting question: What is most important in making ethical decisions - human wellbeing, animal wellbeing, or the environment? I think we noted that with the present environmental crisis, animal rights has probably taken a nose dive. Yet, even concern with the environment is pretty androcentric. A few of us said that whilst previously we would definately have put human welfare before others, we are now beginning to realise that you can't parcel things up so easily. Animal, environment and human welfare are all tied up with each other and God has called us to care for each.
After discussing the case studies, I did a bit of a brief overview of the kind of thinking that has led to our present attitude to consumption - including an overview of how Christians have thought about this in the past. When I find the time, I'll post my notes online, but in the meantime, here are the main points:
- up to 16th century there was remarkable consensus about economics (i.e. usury is wrong, retailers should set a 'just price' not what people are willing to pay, people should be paid a 'just pay', making money at other's people's expense is wrong and consumption in moderation is important etc.)
- The consensus was broken with the growth of capitalism at the beginning of the sixteenth century and the pressure on Christians to engage with a consumer society.
- The Enlightenment created a division between public and private. This relegated religion to the private and said it had nothing to say to economics, which was in the public sphere.
- Economic theories further said that everyone would be better off if we all pursued our own self-interest. This essentially meant economics was self-consiously amoral. It declared itself free from ethical considerations. This is still true today, except for a few maveriks.
- Christianity broadly speaking followed the lead of culture and on the whole (there are always exceptions) focused on spiritual life and not economics. Just price, opposition to usury etc went out of the window. The one ethic that continued was the principle of moderation, which still continues today - more commonly known as, 'simple living'.
We finished with two questions, and I used the words of 2 Biblical bad guys to frame these questions;
1. The words of Judas when the woman poured perfume on Jesus' feet and wondered whether it should have been sold and the money given to the poor (it was worth a year's wages) Judas' words are the words of the advocate of 'simple living', are they not? After all, the woman was lavish with her consumption and Jesus rebukes Judas' suggestion that it should not have been consumed, but given to the poor. Isn't 'simple living' denying a lot in the Bible about enjoying the lavish provision of God, by enjoying parties (as Jesus did) and feasting (as Jesus did)? Is consuming only what we 'need' pretty dull and lifeless and Pharisaism? Also, can anyone define what we 'need' to live on? Isn't it very relative? Arriving back from the 3rd world, you might have a very different idea about what is 'needed' than if you have been subsummed within western culture for years. Aquinas defined'need' as what is needed to live in the station we were called to. Sider talks about living in a way that is not embarrassingly minimal. Aren't both these definitions unworkable? Aren't they both determined by our culture?
2. I asked the question that was asked to Jesus : who is my neighbour? You work for a company selling mobile phones. You are aware that the people who produce them are working in substandard conditions and for unreasonably low pay. You also know that if you give up this job, your family will be without a wage earner. Is your responsibility first to the person you can't see in the Far East or to your family. According to the Anabaptist, Yoder, "one must accept all personal, moral and spiritual liability for all harms done at any distance in space or time to anyone by one's own choices." Others say your responsibility is first to your family. I expressed by concern about dividing the world between 'us' and 'them'. It is the root of racism and the Bible surely teaches that we are all equally made in the image of God.
As this post is already ridiculously long, I wont go into what everyone said. I look forward to all your comments.