A Response to Blackadder’s “Schindler’s Sweatshops”
I was originally going to respond in the comments, but I think my personal experience is very relevant to this conversation so I thought I would make a response to Blackadder’s piece.
In the Fall of 2000, I was asked by my employer, Caritas de Costa Rica, to teach human rights classes to migrant workers on a Dole Banana Plantation in Eastern Costa Rica. I was thrilled to be given such an important task and wondered why “I” had been chosen. I was told that the primarily Indian, undocumented, Nicaraguan workers, spoke Spanish as a second language and since my Spanish was so poor and simple, I would be better understood than the more sophisticated Spanish of my co-workers, lol!
When I said “yes,” I had ZERO idea what I was saying “yes” to in reality. I didn’t realize that the classes were illegal, according to Dole, and that just by attending workers would not only lose their job, but like other sweatshops, the workers were provided with “free” housing and food along with their work, so to be fired meant losing everything. I was newly arrived and a spoiled American who didn’t understand that these rights which I grew up breathing, eating, living, experiencing, were “rights” that the workers had NEVER heard before. I also was not prepared to have people SO HUNGRY for this information, that they would walk HOURS in bare feet on horrible roads, who would sacrifice everything just to learn about how to protect their human dignity.
It was new to them to learn that they had the right to pee while on company time. Keep in mind that most work days were 12 hour shifts so that is 12 HOURS without being able to pee. Of course, humans cannot wait that long, so they would pee in unsanitary conditions out in the fields wherever they could.
It was new to them that they had the right to eat more than one meal a day. It was new to them to realize that they had the right to demand better housing from their “employer.” Let me explain. They had a right to expect not to live in shacks with massive holes in the roof and rotting floors that would become ankle deep mud during the 7 months of pure rain in the tropical climate. They had a right to clean water untouched by all the chemicals and fertilizers that Dole uses to ensure its beautiful bannanas for NorthAmerica and Europe. They had a right to a wage that would ensure all of their children wouldn’t have to miss school on a daily basis to work with their parents to earn just enough money at the end of the month to pay rent on their h0ly homes, one meal per day, supplemented by stolen bananas from the fields they worked.
Lastly, these workers had the RIGHT to be educated. They had the right not to get fired merely because they wanted to learn how to make change to their work environment.
To me, it was a one weekend class. To them, they risked it all.
Blackadder gives us the choice between DEATH or slave labor conditions. As many readers rightly pointed out, BA, you are giving us false choices. When a Nica was asked “Why do you come here to suffer so much?” The Nica responded “Because here (the Dole Plantation) we eat one meal a day, while at home we don’t eat for days.” Blackadder would defend this and say “see, look, quit your bitchin’. You are so blessed to even eat.” But the Church does not teach us this. The Church says that human dignity demands more. Dole is a multi-billion dollar company. They can afford to justly compensate their workers, who by Costa Rican law, are completely dependent upon them. Dole, and every other company like them, gets around the law by saying “see, we provide housing and food.” Just not sufficient housing and food.
BA, what I would say to you, is that there are many wonderful Catholic organizations who provide short-term volunteer opportunities. Take advantage of a two week vacation and go abroad and work. It will prevent posts like you have written and it will make you much more open to the Church’s just social teachings.