Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of our Daily Choices – Book Review

Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of our Daily Choices
Author: Julie Clawson
Publisher: InterVarsity Press
ISBN: 978-0-8308-3628-4  2009

Review by Janet Parsons.

Julie Clawson’s understated little book appears at first glance to inhabit the life-improvement genre but turns out to be a linchpin for Christian ethics. Its purpose is to raise awareness that what we choose to eat, drink, wear, use up and throw away is crucial to others and an expression of faith.

Clawson served as a pastor in Chicago and now lives in Texas. She is a young mother and a prolific blogger on emerging Christianity, social justice and the power of the individual as a God-partner for change. She admits that media coverage of injustices as serious as those in Darfur in 1997 are overwhelming and we fail to see how we can make a difference, so she uses anecdotes, a clutch of incisive data, reasoned argument and the Scriptures to draw the reader gently (‘don’t panic’) into a commitment to small changes in their lives, which she says will alter their theology and make each a part of Jesus’ ‘good news to the poor’.

Her own awareness of justice issues began with a closer look at coffee, which has become a stylish consumer product and a big earner for the five companies that dominate growers in the poorest nations. In Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, farmers have lost their land to transnational corporations that give them jobs but deny them a living wage and safe working conditions. She cites Malachi 3:5, God will judge, ‘those who defraud labourers of their wages’.

Chocolate tells a similar story. In the case of one nation, Cote d’Ivoire, half the population earns its living from cocoa. To meet export demand, labourers (many of them children) are trafficked in from as far away as Mali. Once under the control of gang masters, they are brutalised. There is more slavery today, the author observes, than in the days of the Atlantic slave ships, so we need to buy fairly traded goods, she says, and promote Fair Trade.

Each chapter focuses on an aspect of consumer extravagance that links to injustice, and Clawson casts her net well beyond food and drink. Enough fuel is burnt in the USA to provide everyone’s whim for easy travel, controlled temperatures and electronic entertainment. But people can opt for small changes, like using a bike occasionally and switching things off.  Individuals can’t solve global warming but everyone needs to accept their part in it, such as in the destruction of farmland and fish populations from oil extraction in the Niger Delta and other subsistence areas. Clawson is good at joining the dots; lost livelihoods lead to unrest and then even relief agencies cannot work effectively.
She insists that what happens beyond one’s line of vision really matters. If we deny the needs of others through greed, we deny the image of God in them. Do we really want to buy the shirt produced by a girl whose parents owe the factory owner for medical bills, who forces her into sex just to keep her job? Do we want food grown with unregulated pesticides that poison ground water in East Africa or India before it is shipped to us? We can ‘buy cheap’ or we can recognise the true costs borne by others and future generations. She says it is time that we had ethical labelling on what we buy.

The opening vignette in the chapter on Waste involves a shopper dashing around a discount store stocking up on toilet paper, disposable diapers (nappies!), plastic picnic plates, bottled water and storage bags, satisfied that she is being efficient and saving money, until she has to pay and realises she has spent hundreds of dollars on what is destined to become ‘trash’. Clawson then raises the spectre of the ‘plastic soup’, larger in area than the USA, that floats on the currents of the Pacific.

She is even-handed in admitting that the USA discards more than any other nation and emits greenhouse gases at an equally horrendous rate. Yet the book is Amero-centric in a more general sense. Had she adopted the perspective of a world citizen, her contribution would have been even greater. The depth of her research supports it. She could show, for example, how Western European nations have the ethic and technology for recycling that all industrialised nations need to adopt. Or, she could ground her principle of living with less ‘stuff’ in the ‘natural recycling’ of the Two-thirds World and show that there is something to learn there too. The American perception needs to broaden into the global frame.

The book’s final topic is loans from Western banks and the International Monetary Fund, which, far from lifting vulnerable economies, have entrapped and destroyed them. The author sets out this complex topic with a depth of understanding that refutes any allegation that this is just a lifestyle manual. She expresses hope for the movement for debt cancellation that was inspired by the world’s churches in the tradition of Jubilee. The problem is she published before the full impact of the economic crisis and the report that showed ‘shockingly little progress’ made by the G20 nations to relieve debt. [1]

This does not detract from Clawson’s positive attitude and emphasis on praxis as she challenges every Christian to join God’s rebuilding of his Kingdom. In the ‘mustard seed movement’ for everyday justice, living for self is simply no longer an option.

[1] Making the Grade; The Group of 20s Commitments to the World’s Poorest, Jubilee USA Network, June, 2010, p. 3

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