Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Social Justice Research

In thinking about and researching my questions on social justice, I have been reading this post by Peter Greer and Phil Smith the authors of The Poor Will Be Glad. Here are some paragraphs that highlight the complexity of the subject and how our good intentions can have bad consequences.

After the genocide [in Rwanda], Jean seized an opportunity to begin a small poultry business to provide his neighborhood with eggs. He managed to scrape together funds to purchase several fowl, and his business grew. Later, a church in America “adopted” the village where Jean lived and worked. The church decided to donate clothes and supplies. They also imported eggs from a neighboring community and gave them away. Suddenly, this one village was flooded with surplus eggs. It is not difficult to imagine what happened to Jean’s business: people went first to collect the free eggs and bought Jean’s eggs only when the supply of free eggs was depleted. The market price for eggs plummeted in Jean’s village and, as a result, Jean was forced to sell his productive assets, his chickens.

The next year, after Jean had left the poultry business, the church that had supplied the free eggs turned its attention to another disaster in another part of the world. Jean’s community had no capacity to produce eggs locally and was forced to import eggs from a neighboring town. The cost of these eggs was higher than the eggs Jean had sold, so both Jean and his village were hurt economically by the good intentions of one American church.

Have you ever donated your used T-shirts to your local thrift store? Often these are bundled and shipped to Africa. This business of secondhand Western clothing, called the mivumba trade in East Africa, decimated clothing production in countries like Uganda and Zambia that previously had thriving textile industries. Several other countries, including Nigeria and Eritrea, have imposed significant tariffs on foreign imports to avoid a similar fate. It is hard to comprehend that our used T-shirts could harm local producers on another continent, yet the American church must learn to be aware of such consequences in our increasingly interconnected world.

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