Elaine Storkey's Thought For The Day - 18th April 2001

Clash of Value Systems - Consumerist v. Biblical

Good morning,

The mystery of the slave ship continues. Speculation ranges from fear that the children are dead, to doubts that such a ship ever existed. Whatever the truth in this case, it does remain undeniable that children in West and Central Africa are being treated as slaves. Impoverished people with no voice and no bargaining power have one vital asset that others want - cheap labour.

The problem is that United Nations agencies, and monitoring programmes, though essential, are not enough. Children in poor countries will always be vulnerable so long as the rich world clings to the myth that global economics operate according to a market mechanism. Suppliers must buy at the lowest possible price and sell at the highest, with supply and demand neatly regulating the relationship. The market absolves us of responsibility.

The reality is much more complicated. For people, not mechanisms, create markets and press for low prices. People decide employment policies, advertising strategies, wage levels, and factory locations. It's people in corporations who pay African workers less for a year than they earn themselves in a week; people in boardrooms who operate cut-throat competition, to gain a powerful world trading position. So-called economic mechanisms have legs, and minds, and corporate attitudes and values.

A collision of value-systems in the affluent world lies at the heart of this issue. There is the biblical value-system where

These biblical values have pioneered fair-trade movements, and called multinationals to account.

Against them is the prevailing value-system of market consumerism, which says in effect, we want cheap goods, maximum choice, high wages for ourselves, an affluent lifestyle, and we want them now. The question is how far we are prepared to close our eyes and hearts when our demands for comfort and ease push the weak to the very edge of slavery.

From our Children at Risk programme in Tearfund we know that for vulnerable young ones to be fully protected, these fundamental values will have to be fought over. The question is whether we're prepared to consider a biblical ethics which invites us to seek justice and walk humbly with God, or whether we carry on putting ourselves first. What we decide is vital, for more is at stake than a system of economics. For poor children in west and Central Africa, it's whether they live or die.

Elaine Storkey

Copyright (c) Elaine Storkey 2001.
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