Blog

Image: PAST and FUTURE

15/03/2019

In this week's blog Bruce Kent, renowned justice campaigner, Vice-President of CND, Pax Christi, and the Movement for the Abolition of War reflects on a life of campaigning and questioning.


Over many years I have acquired quite a collection of papal and episcopal pastoral letters, statements and instructions.   They have something to say on a wide variety of subjects. Some ring much louder bells than others.  Top of my chart comes the message Pope Francis sent to a Rome Symposium on Disarmament in 2017.  He had this to say about nuclear weapons:  'The threat of their use as well as their very possession is to be firmly condemned.’ 

Out of the church window go decades of unconvincing  moral distinctions between deterrence and use.

My runner up for first prize goes to the bishops of the world for their 1971 statement on justice.  It came out in English with the title Our World and You and runs to 12 pages. This sentence is my favourite: 'We are called to preach…the good news  of the mission of Christ to liberate mankind.  Right at the heart of this preaching lies the work we must do for Justice.’

Charity is vital but so too is justice. Charity is not too difficult: be loving and generous to those in trouble and dig deep into your pocket when the call comes. 
 
Justice however is much more uncomfortable.  In a rich world why are some people starving? Where do all the weapons come from that make wars - Yemen for instance - possible? Why is the United Nations Charter not available on church bookstalls?  Why was there no church outcry when it was decided to spend at least £200 billion, not on the NHS, but on yet another set of nuclear weapons?  Are there not moral problems when the rich can have spare homes while some of the poor have nowhere to live?

In that powerful 1971 document there is a bit about the Church's own witness.  For instance it says: ‘To help all members of the church take part in the making of decisions Councils at every level should be set up’.  Well there are some diocesan and parochial councils but most of us are still waiting.

These were all very new ideas to those of my vintage generation.  Justice raised questions of politics and that, so many then thought, was for the politicians.  So called 'Charity' law made it, then and now, financially safer to avoid contentious issues of 'politics'.

My 'mistake' was to get involved with Pax Christi at an early stage.  An accident really, since all I wanted was to recommend some good holiday experiences for the members of 'my' youth club.  Pax Christi led me onto CND, to the International Peace Bureau, to War on Want, to Prison Reform projects and to the Catholic Worker movement.  Beware - once you start sliding it’s not easy to stop!  I don’t regret a moment of it and am still more than happy to be an active member, not in the way I had planned, of our universal church.  But then someone brighter than me said once that God writes straight with crooked lines.  Or something like it.
 


Image: She Deserves  A Living Income

08/03/2019

The focus of this year’s Fairtrade Fortnight is cocoa, women and living income. Margaret McGowan reflects on the effects of the cocoa price crisis.


Many farmers, men and women, are underpaid and so exploited that they can’t earn enough for the basics most of us would take for granted  - such as education, housing and food - simply because they don’t earn a living income. Women’s situation is worse because they are often overlooked and under-represented. They can often receive even less money for their crop.
 
It is more important than ever, therefore, to remember why Fairtrade is so important. It can’t solve everything, but we must fight the injustice at the heart of the multibillion-pound chocolate industry.
 
Fairtrade Fortnight, from February 25 to March 11, this year themed
‘She Deserves a Living Income’, highlights the plight of women cocoa farmers.
 
In West Africa, £1.86 is a living income. Currently, a typical cocoa farmer in Cote d’Ivoire lives on around 74p a day. Almost all cocoa farmers in West Africa live in poverty. For the women the situation is even worse. Fairtrade’s three-year campaign hopes to encourage everyone in the cocoa sector, from consumers and businesses to governments, to play their part in making a living income a reality for cocoa farmers. 
 
Pope Francis has condemned modern-day slavery of 11 million men, women and children and urges us to action.

Speaking to consumers, he said “… we are tempted to select items which may well have been produced by exploiting others. Some of us, out of indifference, or financial reason or because we are caught up in our daily concerns, close our eyes to this. Others, however, decide to do something about it.”

He added, “I urgently appeal to all men and women of good will … not to become accomplices to this evil, not to turn away from the sufferings of our brothers and sisters…The globalization of indifference … requires all of us to forge a new worldwide solidarity and fraternity capable of giving them new hope and helping them to advance.”

Fairtrade offers a powerful response to Francis’ challenge to “do something”.  Independent inspectors certify that Fair Trade products are free from exploitation. The Fairtrade logo ensures just wages and safe working conditions that combat poverty.
 
When we make the conscious choice to purchase Fairtrade items, we put Catholic social teaching values into action, working to realise our vision of economic justice.
 
Brexit means our trade rules will be rewritten and new trade deals negotiated. Big changes ahead will affect not only us but also millions of farmers and workers from the world’s poorest countries who rely on trading with us. The Trade and Customs Bill returned to parliament last July. Almost 3,000 Fairtrade supporters emailed their MPs before the third reading, asking them to vote to amend the Trade Bill to include a democratic and transparent process for negotiating our future trade deals. It was close, but sadly the amendment lost by 30 votes.

The future is unclear, but let’s work with the Fairtrade Foundation and activists to get the best possible outcome for producers and workers in developing countries.


Image: City Hearts Aberdeen - Working to Tackle Human Trafficking

01/03/2019

In this week's blog Kenneth Sadler, Coordinator of St Mary’s Cathedral, Justice and Peace Group in Aberdeen, welcomes a new initiative just started in Aberdeen to help the victims of modern slavery who, as he explains, are not always from far off shores.


From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has stressed the importance of concern for the poor and vulnerable as part of the practice of our faith, and a prominent part of this concern must be for the victims of human trafficking:

"I have always been distressed at the lot of those who are victims of various kinds of human trafficking. How I wish that all of us would hear God’s cry: “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9). Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? (Evangelii Gaudium 211)


This concern is emphatically shared by Justice and Peace Scotland and it was fitting that in January the Justice and Peace Group of St Mary’s Cathedral in Aberdeen hosted a presentation from three representatives of City Hearts Aberdeen, a charity which aims to support and restore those affected by human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery.

City Hearts Aberdeen was launched in June 2018 and is the first Scottish project of City Hearts UK, which was founded in 2005. The representatives showed a video giving the survivor’s story of a trafficked and enslaved Nigerian woman, but they also explained that ‘modern slavery’ is an umbrella term encompassing forms of servitude beyond human trafficking and that, perhaps surprisingly, 54% of all modern slavery victims in this country are UK citizens.

Despite its reputation of relative affluence, Aberdeen shares with other parts of Scotland issues associated with the misuse of drugs and alcohol, and it has also suffered economically through the recent oil and gas downturn. Labour exploitation is an increasingly common form of modern slavery in the Granite City.

City Hearts Aberdeen receives referrals from the police and from immigration authorities. It is involved with a drop-in service, restoration programme, and safe house, which will be opening shortly. The initial goal is to provide supportive environments through which women recovering from exploitation and living with life control issues can regain their independence and find a healthy way forward.

This assistance is to be available for as long as it is needed by the affected women.

One of the reasons that human trafficking is such a profoundly disturbing phenomenon is that it is a blatant example of using fellow human beings as objects or means, rather than recognising them as subjects and ends. Relationships with traffickers are abusive and based on deceit as they maintain a malign hold on their victims. The vulnerabilities these victims have are exploited; they are financially manipulated; they have their passports removed; and are kept in a state of dependence and ignorance. There is a strong link between human trafficking and organised crime.

The St Mary’s Cathedral Justice and Peace Group was grateful to Heidi, Laura and Cat of City Hearts Aberdeen for giving an insight into the hidden world of modern slavery. This attack on human dignity rightly scandalises us and, following the lead of Pope Francis, we should all act to make it a thing of the past.

City Hearts Aberdeen website https://city-hearts.co.uk/city-hearts-launches-in-aberdeen

 




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