Categories
Thought

Reflecting on the World Economic Forum

Oxfam International published a report as 2500 of the world’s political and business elites met in Davos in Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum. The most striking statistic in the report is that the 85 richest people in the world have as much money as the 3.5billion poorest people put together, half the total world population. The top 1% of earners in the world own 46% of the world’s total wealth. The Executive Director of Oxfam International, Ms Winnie Byanyima, said, “Extreme inequality is undermining social stability and threatening global security.”

God cares deeply about poor people. In the Old Testament he gave laws to safeguard the poor from being exploited by the rich and powerful. He commanded a weekly day of rest for all people, including servants. It was to be a Sabbath to the Lord their God. Every 7 years there was a Sabbath Year of rest for the land when “the poor among your people may get food from it.” In the Sabbath Year slaves were set free and debts were cancelled.

Every 50 years there was also a Jubilee Year when those who had bought land returned it to its original owners, all debts were cancelled and all slaves set free. For 2 years the people lived in dependence on God to provide for all their needs. The Jubilee Year was a time of joyful celebration of God’s goodness and faithfulness. The Jubilee Year restored equality. No Israelite could forever remain a slave. The Jubilee Year ensured social justice as the poor were lifted up. The good things God provides are not for a favoured few, but for us all.

Jesus spoke very clearly about the danger of riches. A rich religious leader once asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus knew this man’s wealth meant everything to him and had taken God’s place in his life. So he said to him, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” When he heard this the young man went away very sad. Looking at him Jesus said, “How hard it is for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” True wealth is spiritual. What counts, ultimately, for us all is not our “net worth” but that we have a rich relationship with God.

Categories
Thought

The realities of living in a Global Village

The death toll following the collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factory complex in Bangladesh has risen to more than 600 people. Rescue workers are exhausted and the relatives of the victims are grief stricken as each day bodies are brought out of the ruins of the eight-storey building. This is Bangladesh’s worst industrial disaster. A preliminary government investigation thinks that vibrations from four generators on the upper floor caused the collapse. The generators were started following a power cut sending powerful vibrations throughout the building which, together with the vibrations from thousands of sewing machines, may have triggered the collapse.

The building was designed to be used for offices and shops and was poorly constructed. It housed an intensive clothing industry making cheap clothes for the Western world. The Bangladeshi Finance Minister said that steps are being taken to prevent similar accidents but he does not think the collapse will seriously impact the country’s garment industry. Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world.

This tragedy brings home to us the realities of living in a Global Village. Factory workers in places like Bangladesh work very long hours and earn very low wages. A factory worker in Bangladesh works up to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and earns £40 a month. The designer clothes they make are sold in affluent countries for very low prices. Large companies make big profits and shoppers in affluent countries find bargains. Should the tragedy in Bangladesh make us think?

God is deeply concerned for social justice and for the oppression of poor people. In the New Testament James challenges the rich who have much more than they need yet do not care for the poor. He writes, “Look here, you rich people, weep and groan because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver have become worthless. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgement. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” We pray that God will comfort the bereaved in Bangladesh and that we will be concerned that workers there should work in safe buildings and be paid a fair rate for their labour.