Picture this scenario. A watchmaker hires an assistant to help him with his business. The watchmaker designs the watches and the assistant builds them. In a short amount of time business is booming.
This assistant turns out to be key part of the watchmaker’s sudden-found success. Yet, despite this, the watchmaker pays the assistant next to nothing and will occasionally physically and emotional abuse the assistant. Additionally, despite the assistant’s constant warnings, he refuses to address the fact that the room in which the assistant works is so disheveled that it is just about to collapse. To top it all off the watchmaker dumps all his trash into the assistant’s drinking water and releases toxic fumes into the air the assistant breathes.
If you knew this watchmaker, you would be appalled, right? You would never support his business or purchase any of his watches. In fact, you would warn others to avoid his business as well. How could you in good conscience call yourself a disciple of Yeshua and still support such a wicked endeavor? Well, the sad reality is that most of us do. Albeit, unknowingly, when we buy many of the clothes we wear, we are supporting the same type of unethical practices.
To be honest, I had heard rumblings of unethical practices going on with clothing makers. Heck, I even had the book What Am I Wearing? on my list of books to read. But I was ignorant to what extent and how widespread it was. My eyes were finally opened when I watched “The True Cost.” This documentary exposes the impact of fashion and the clothing industry upon people as well as the environment. To sum it up, western society’s constant demand for more and cheaper clothes has a direct impact upon the factory workers in the foreign countries where the clothes are made. Many paid wages aren’t enough to live on along with unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Workers are often treated like slaves and abused. These factories also dump their waste right into lakes and rivers and have little regard for God’s creation. All this is done with full approval from the American companies that design and market the clothing. Making money is the name of the game.
The Master tells us “Therefore do not be anxious, saying …‘What shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:31). Now, most of us have never been in such a place of need. However, we must admit that at times we are “anxious” about being in fashion and have more clothes than we really need. There is nothing wrong with being in style and feeling good about the clothes we wear, but it should not be at the cost of the suffering of our neighbor. Yeshua wants us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and this includes the person who makes our clothes.
I believe this should be an issue that we in Messianic Judaism care about. The Torah is full of instructions about how to treat employees ethically. It also tells us: “Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life” (Leviticus 19:16). What can we do? Do some research on your favorite brands and stores. Do they practice ethical treatment of overseas workers? The best are companies that are Fair Trade certified. Also, think about each item you purchase. Do I really need this? How many times will I actually wear it? It’s always in style to go thrifting. When you shop at a places like Good Will, your money is going to a good cause. Its guilt-free shopping because no matter what brand of clothing you buy, there the money does not go to supporting the clothing company.