not for sale

A MHP Interview with David Batstone
Ever wonder where the “pro bono” lurks in Bono’s messages about Africa? From Product Red – excuse me – (Product) red – that promotes indulging in and indulgences for the cause to the cost-nothing signatures harvested at overpriced concerts fueling the One celeb show, there is little demand to sacrifice because of personal ethics and activism. This bonofied approach that shows no discipline toward commercializing seems most concerned about how products can marry fashion with social concern. But why? Is it really instilling anything in an individual? Maybe just on… earphones roped in from schnazy red iPods or those cool again Converse shoes.

Too bad. We all wear our skinned-up justifications and now on a million hip hips Red has had its way and money has relieved a million guilts. But that’s not Bono’s point. He wants us to care the way he does… even more, the way Jesus would. But he’s been milking the US consumer market for years and he knows he can’t demand a pound of flesh without a tickle or a vertigo-styled rub. So combine it. Get Brad Pitt or Tom Hanks to seriously stare at us and all of a sudden we will listen.

Unfortunately, Bono has identified the truth about today’s populace: we like to wear the badge of “consumer” before anything else. And that has an effect on charity… on love of others. So why should we care about a new organization that carries the inauspicious title “Not For Sale Campaign”? Theirs is not Africa only, but the crime of modern-day slavery globally. Don’t worry fellow consumers, what is “not for sale” are the slaves that make our t-shirts and pick our vegetables; it’s not voiding out products altogether. However, there is a clear connection. Just go into one of our neighborhood GAP store and check out the labels. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything American made. Yes, this does not automatically attribute the product to slave labor, but if the counts are right and more than 27 million people are enslaved, that makes our purchases with overseas tags more suspect.

Born from a refocus on the historic work of William Wilberforce (who helped pass the Save Act 200 years ago which abolished slavery in the British Empire), former Sojourners editor David Batstone is heading up this not-for-sale awareness. He explained the purpose of the campaign in a conversation I had with him a few weeks ago.

David Batstone: On the one-hand, Wilberforce had a global connection. There was a concentration of capital and power to address easily and boycott items like sugar. Today, it’s a global market and products come from all over the world. There’s more complicity. It makes you never able to feel self-righteous.

We must approach the subject with a sense of vocation and calling because modern-day slavery is an evil that’s diffuse. The task is daunting and forever overwhelming. However, there are some advantages in our current day. Wilberforce was dealing with a state-sanctioned institution and he had no one to turn to. Today, slavery is outlawed in every country.

MHP: So, who gets labeled as a slave? How is that label defined?

DB: The basic definition of slavery, modern day or historic, is forcing another individual to do something against their will without compensation. Many people lack justice. What does justice mean? In our Scriptures, justice is the fabric that allows us to live life. And where the poor lack an advocate their freedom is robbed.

The Not For Sale Campaign is focused on a worker’s compensation when null and forced labor is present. This is modern day slavery. We want to understand the mechanisms that drive this on each of the five continents and work against it. We want to highlight the heroes and bring out the patterns we’ve seen. First, modern day slavery starts with vulnerable people who lack protection. That usually means women and children. That usually means they are removed from their communities and cross borders. The outcome of sexual slavery is a blatant trafficking case. But more are forced into rug looms, brick making, and harvesting crops, from Guatemala to Florida.

MHP: How do we measure success – what’s the result?

DB: Where’s the Jack Welch in all this? We’re all influenced by Jack Welch, General Electric’s longtime CEO, as we ask how we measure the results – what’s the bottom line for success?

MHP: I guess.

DB: We need to return to Luther’s notion of mission and empower creativity for the best to result… no matter the skill set. If you are a journalist, you give that. You bring who you are to God’s table in an effort to effect relief. You can’t ask too much then.

With justice, it’s about building up the narrative. That’s why Batstone and the Not For Sale campaign website is working up to highlight a new person every day who is living out justice in their life, vocation, community, and all the repercussions that are possible when our intentions, prayers, and actions find more purpose than all the sprawl that feeds off the backs of slaves and into all those made up needs that dance like sugar plumbs in our heads.

Interview and opening comments by Zach Kincaid.