Our homes, workplaces, shops and markets are full of items made from around the world. However, we do not often consider the individuals behind the making of what we buy. We in the consumer nations should be concerned with the welfare of those making the products we buy and thus ask ourselves questions such as:
- As followers of Jesus Christ, how do we respond to others with humility, love, compassion and justice through the purchases we make?
- Is stewardship limited to our 10% tithe to church or does it encompass 100% of all that we have?
Consuming affects others
Ken Wytsma, in Pursuing Justice said, “We live in an interconnected world. The way we consume directly affects the lived realities of other people, whether we want it to or not.”1
Because our world is global, we have an opportunity to care for others across borders and cultures through our everyday shopping. We can care for the poor simply by being aware of the conditions in which they work to make our goods and by making purchases that help those behind our products.
Chocolate and slavery
CNN’s Freedom Project has told the story of Abdul (then ten years old) who was trafficked across a border to work in the cocoa farms of Ivory Coast seven days a week as a child slave.2 Chocolate is a precious commodity and likely a household staple in many homes across Europe and America. In fact, Europeans and Americans consume most of the world’s chocolate.3 The question arises whether it is possible to consume chocolate and make a way for children like Abdul never to end up working as slaves.
Electronics and war
With the increase in demand over the past 15 years for electronics products, such as cell phones and computers, the need for coltan, the mineral used to make these devices, has increased dramatically. The largest mine of coltan is in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
With such a high demand for coltan, militia groups have been fighting for control of this highly valued resource for years. The current rebel group fighting for control of coltan is M23. In the past two years, the Rwandan-backed group is estimated to have made over 250 million dollars from the sale of coltan.
When asked to comment on the current situation in DRC, Ryan Mariden, a board member with Africa New Day said, “I have seen firsthand the horrific impact these militias have on the children of eastern DRC. One boy shared with me his story of capture at age ten and his life as a child soldier that spanned over five years before he was finally free. What these kids go through is so shocking – so deplorable, that I doubt we would see it in our worst horror movies in America. Awareness is key. The political background in all of this is complex to say the least. What is needed is amplified world awareness, a beaming spotlight straight on Congo that will make the situation simply impossible to ignore.”4
Stewardship and justice
Tithing a tenth of our income to God is one way to express gratitude and acknowledgment that all we have are blessings from him. However, we often do not consider how we spend the remaining 90% — which is also a stewardship issue:
- In Money, Possessions, and Eternity, author Randy Alcorn writes, “The tithe was never a ceiling for giving, only a floor. It was a beginning point. The tithe was a demonstration of obedience. Voluntary offerings were a demonstration of love, joy and worship.”5
- A deeper look at God’s heart for the poor reveals he is much more concerned with how we daily spend the 90% than he is with the 10% tithe (Amos 5:22-24, Is. 58, Mt. 23:23).
Choosing to spend our money in a way that cares for those making the products we buy aligns our hearts with God’s heart for justice. What concerns him ought to concern us. This is both obedience and worship, and it creates space to share the Gospel across borders and cultures.
The Cape Town Commitment puts it this way, “We support Christians whose particular missional calling is to environmental advocacy and action, as well as those committed to godly fulfillment of the mandate to provide for human welfare and needs by exercising responsible dominion and stewardship.”6
In addition, Ken Wystma writes, “My greatest frustration with consumerism is that it encourages selfishness while reinforcing the lie that happiness is found in consumption — the opposite to Jesus’ call to give our lives away. And paradoxically, rejecting the consumerism of our culture is the way to find our greatest joy. What if consumerism that plagues our churches — that plagues our hearts — could begin transforming into compassion?”
Organisations such as Trade as One and Food for the Hungry encourage consumers to spend in a way that extends compassion across borders. Followers of Jesus can participate in restoration work throughout the world and the redemption of land and people by making purchases that seek to care for others globally.
Trade as One offers a simple approach: “Our mission is to use fair trade to promote sustainable business and break cycles of poverty and dependency in the developing world. We all have a conscience. We want to make sure people get the chance to use it when they shop.”7
Trade as One has established partnerships with a number of accredited fair trade groups that work to create jobs for the impoverished in an effort to restore dignity and the ability to provide for family and community. Consumers can buy their everyday products and be guaranteed no one experiences injustice in the making of that product.
In relation to chocolate, Trade as One has partnered with Divine, an organisation based in Ghana that not only provides honest work for the cocoa farmers, but also ensures the workers own a significant portion of the business and therefore have a voice in its growth and development in their community.8
By considering others when purchasing, consumers can continue to buy chocolate and help to create and sustain jobs for others. In this way, injustice will be prevented, a life of slavery avoided and a self-sustaining livelihood developed for families and communities around the world.
Additionally, there are practical steps consumers can take to help to slow the demand for coltan and help protect the Congolese people from unnecessary suffering:
- Only buy new electronics when necessary.
- Tell others about coltan and encourage them to learn more.
- Contact leading electronics companies and urge them to be vigilant in legitimately purchasing coltan from the Congolese people and not ultimately from the militias.
Jesus is the hope of the world. He uses his Church to spread his good news of life and love for all of his creation. As his Church, we can participate in God’s plan for justice in an unjust world, simply by making purchases that care for others.
Wendy McMahan, Director of Church Engagement with Food for the Hungry, put it this way, “As Christians, it’s important that we honor God in every area of our lives. We can’t separate our tithes and offerings from the way we spend the rest of our income. In God’s eyes, our spending is critical to our discipleship. Food for the Hungry works with church partners in the Global North who develop deep relationships with vulnerable communities in the Global South. When a church forms that kind of relationship, they begin to see how the choices they make every day have an impact on people living in poverty around the globe. It’s a wake-up call to do justice–not only by giving more generously, but by spending more wisely.”9
Nathan George, founder of Trade as One, offers this concluding encouragement: “We offer a fair trade food subscription service that provides a quarterly box of various fairly traded food from around the world. We connect you to the producers behind the food and tell you why it’s important to consume that product ethically. There is hope! Each year, more and more people catch the vision of fair trade—that the poor can come out of poverty simply by the choices we make in the products we consume. Our spending does make a difference, and it’s when we realize this, and embrace it wholly in connection with our faith and God’s love for all people that we begin to see why it matters.”
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3:16-17
Editor’s Note: On November 6, 2013, news services reported that as a result of international pressures, one of the main rebel groups in the eastern DR Congo, known as M23, was laying down its arms and resolving to pursue political means to address its concerns. The following response entitled ‘A Response: Coltan and the conflict in the DRC’ is written by Bosela Eale.
A Response: Coltan and the conflict in the DRC
The situation of conflict and war in the eastern DRC is complex. Many observers have questioned why the Eastern Congo has gone through all kinds of massacres and violence leaving behind orphans, widows, a high rate of drop out from schools etc.
Some believe the reason is found in the political sphere while others blame neighbouring countries seeking to control the region’s vast mineral resources:
- The DRC is endowed with various natural resources.
- Out of envy, surrounding countries participate in looting those natural resources and creating disorder, arming rebel groups to terrorise villagers.
- When people flee, the rebels settle and start the exploitation of coltan and other minerals.
- The beneficiaries of that illegal exploitation of Congolese resources are neighbouring countries and their governments.
The growth of mining in the Eastern Congo is hampered by poor overall management of resources, fraud and inadequate legal structures, such that the country has not benefited from the opportunities provided by rising world mineral prices. Furthermore, the involvement of armies from neighbouring countries in the North and South Kivu regions has made it difficult for the DRC to exploit its coltan reserves. Mining of the mineral is mainly artisanal and small-scale. Coltan smuggling provides income for the military occupation of the DRC, as well as prolonging conflict.
Not only has the illegal exploitation of coltan caused the loss of thousands of Congolese lives, but it also raises environmental concerns. Uncontrolled mining activities are eroding land and polluting lakes and rivers, affecting the ecology of the region.
The invasion of eastern DRC by neighbouring countries is primarily motivated by the desire to gain control over its natural resources. Rebel groups in the Eastern Congo are also motivated by economics rather than political considerations. In the view of many Congolese, those rebel groups are just puppets for neighbouring countries and Western corporations.
As you use a cell phone or laptop or any other devices made of coltan, think of the thousands upon thousands of innocent Congolese who are dying in the areas where coltan is being mined.
1 Wytsma, Ken. Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things. Thomas Nelson, 2013.
2 See the CNN Freedom Project site for Abdul’s story and more on slavery in West Africa’s cocoa field.
3 See the International Cocoa Organization website for more information.
4 See the Africa New Day (AND) website for more information.
5 Alcorn, Randy. Money, Possessions, and Eternity. Tyndale House Publishers Inc., 2003.
6 The Cape Town Commitment I-7-A, 2010.
7 See the Trade as One website for more information.
8 See Divine’s website for more information.
9 See the Food for the Hungry website for more information.