Things I learned:
- NAFTA has kind of screwed Mexico, in several ways. Among them: NAFTA allowed the U.S. to flood the Mexican market with super cheap corn (corn subsidies allow corn to be sold at a cheaper price than Mexicans can grow corn. As corn is the backbone of the Mexican diet, this is a problem and puts many Mexicans out of work). At the same time, immigration policies were stiffened, basically forcing Mexicans to cross into the U.S. at the most dangerous places, ensuring that only the most physically fit Mexicans (and thus some of the best workers) survive the trip. This policy has resulted in the deaths of millions of Mexicans.
- Corporations really are people! Only not in a good way. In a we-can-now-sue-the-government-for-anything-that-could-possibly-affect-free-trade way. NAFTA lifted all restrictions to free trade, which means corporations can sue governments for laws that might affect free trade. As an example, a Canadian mining company tried to sue California for a law phasing out the use of a dangerous chemical, because this was going to negatively impact their business. In other words, companies have an absurd amount of power and the potential to change laws enacted through the political process.
- Countries are not necessarily allowed to put controls on their imports. Examples: genetically modified foods can't be legislated against, in Thailand the government was forced to allow cigarettes to be imported which resulted in a 10% increase in cigarette consumption.
- Companies leverage the threat of pulling their factories from a country when there is the possibility of having to accept union workers, higher wages, paying taxes, etc. When productions costs rise in the host country, many companies leave in the middle of the night, leaving suddenly unemployed workers (I saw this firsthand in Namibia). Many companies are also enticed to set up operations in a given country with promises of tax breaks (again, I saw this in Namibia). This means that a corporation receives large tax breaks, and all the country gains is increased local employment. Granted, this is a good thing, but is it worth the cost?
- Reminders about the (usually) awful conditions in factories around the world: their labor practices, low wages, environmentally suspect policies, and increased questions about what impact I can possibly have as a consumer, especially when it's so hard to learn about individual companies' practices.
Every morning on these retreats we start the day with some sort of reflection. One morning Alicia led a short Bible study on part of John 9. The last verse in the chapter reads:
"Jesus said, 'If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.'" John 9:41 (NIV)
I know it's pretty dangerous to take just one Bible verse and use it to prove a point, but you'll just have to trust me here that these conclusions came from a longer discussion of the rest of the chapter as well, and reflect the context from which we were thinking during the retreat.
Our group decided that this verse was an affirmation that we are not allowed to claim ignorance on issues of globalization and food. It's a challenge to us. Now that we're (at least semi-) educated, we can't be innocent of the actions we take and choices we make. I believe an exact quote from this discussion was, "Now that we've seen some things, what are we going to do about it?"
So that's my challenge to you. Now that you've read this blog, try to educate yourself a bit more on some of these issues. Choose one that pertains to your home community, a country where a YAGM is currently serving (a list of most of their blogs can be found here), or research your favorite clothing company to see if you can ethically support them. Try to be an educated citizen of our global community, because the choices you make have greater implications.
Now that you've seen some things, what are you going to do about it?