Category Archives: Ethics

Rediscovering my justice mojo part one: visible clothing

Those who have known me a long time can relate many stories of Sam’s justice crusades and rants. From that life-changing four weeks in Tanzania with Tearfund back in 1998, being chained to the QUB railings as part of Jubilee 2000, to countless campaigns and rants over injustice.

I’ve always held a strong sense of justice and realised a few years ago unsurprisingly that it is one of my values. I’m not sure what happened but it feels like it dulled (or changed) over the last few years. I guess life happens. Moving city, country. Stress. Conflict. Changing jobs. Starting something. Death and grief. Marriage. Living. Maybe losing a community of people also passionate about those things…


Fear not. The justice mojo is returning. Timed perfectly with the advent of parenthood. Inspired by some friends who in the face of tragedy and the reality of sweatshops decided not to sit still but do something constructive. Andy and Andy decided to give away their wardrobe and replace it with clothes they knew were made by people who were treated fairly. Documenting their journey and reviewing their clothes at Who Made My Wardrobe (with a great website too) inspired me again that taking small actions adds up and I can make a difference. As a result my next t-shirt purchases were from Rapanui (right). they make some great t-shirts – the bamboo ones being amazingly soft.

At the end of their journey Andy and Andy realised that the ethical clothing market was still very small. Some ethical clothing is,  let’s be honest not exactly cool, and some almost prohibitively expensive.

And so they decided to set up their own label. Visible clothing was born off the back of a successful crowdfunding campaign. Taking part in that and sharing parts of their journey on social media was a significant step in helping remind me that I could make a difference.

Watch their story here

Andy and Andy inspired me and reminded me of a few things

  • it is possible to do something – we don’t have to feel overwhelmed
  • my buying choices make a difference
  • the importance of community – sharing their story reminded me i’m not alone in wanting to engage on these issues, and without their example and inspiration I’d still be living in conflict with my values. (I’m thankful too for Robin who has also been blogging and acting on this stuff).
  • you never know what will happen when you take a risk and start small

I’m thankful to Andy and Andy for helping reignite my passion to act and live more justly. I want to do my best to make sure the people who make what I wear/eat/consume are paid fairly and treated justly. I’m excited to see where the Visible journey will go and am committed to making more ethical decisions when it comes to purchasing clothes.

And maybe little Colm will become a justice crusader too… Best get him started young. Now ethical baby/children’s clothing – there is another discussion/blog post…2014-08-11 17.53.12





On language, and Vinoth Ramachandra on the use of ‘terrorist’

Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties from conservatives to anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. (George Orwell)

I read Vinoth Ramachandra’s wonderful and provocative book ‘Subverting Global Myths’ a few years ago. Some of what he has written on terrorism I have found profoundly challenging.  It’s certainly relevant at the moment although this may not be the best time to post this!

For most of the nineteenth century, however the word terrorist came to refer to all revolutionaries who threatened the monarchies of Europe… was after World War 2, when the British and French empires found themselves vulnerable to nationalist agitation in their colonies that terrorism came to be used exclusively of acts of political violence committed by nonstate actors. The newly independent states of Asia and Africa took over this definition of terrorism and applied it in subsequent years to all those militant guerrilla organisations that challenged state authority. The use of force for political ends, whether in the context of declared war or otherwise, is inextricably bound up with terror… [he goes on to cite examples in Algeria and his homeland of Sri Lanka]

Unless we proscribe to the naive belief that governments do not engage in acts of terror against their own citizens, let alone the civilian populations of other nations, the one-sided use of terrorism by the world’s media is baffling. Violent actions by the Israeli army or Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians are never described as ‘terrorist’ but the term is routinely used in large sections of the Western media for violent acts undertaken against Israelis. Surely journalistic integrity requires that the term terrorism should either be dropped for its vagueness or used even-handedly to embrace all organised acts of terror, including those by governments. The terms militant, guerrilla or insurgent do not carry the same connotations of evil that terrorist does; and hence the hijacking of that term by governments who want to scapegoat those who challenge their legitimacy. ‘Terrorism’ is always what our enemies do….

Many of us who live in societies that have been traumatised by decades of terrorist and counter-terrorist violence slowly become desensitised to it. We are tempted  to justify brutal retaliation by the police and military whenever their our own security is shattered by a bomb attack. We have seen how ‘terrorist’ suspects in most countries are treated neither as prisoners of war nor as criminals. In either case they would come under protective judicial procedures. The category to which they are reduced is that of the subhuman, and so they can be tortured and executed without qualm. This is an affront to the inherent human dignity tat they share with us.

The language that we use is powerful in making those who are different from us into the ‘other’. I know this only too well from my upbringing in Northern Ireland. Even a comment today made in a Facebook debate on Gaza (referring to Hamas) reinforces this:

they don’t value human life we do


Subtext – ‘we’ are better than ‘them’ or in personal cases ‘I’ am better than ‘you’.

In conflict it is only too easy to demonise the other ‘other side’ and forget they too are people of dignity created in the image of God. Vinoth’s words remind me of the importance of trying to pause and be careful about my language, whether it be conflict on an interpersonal level or an international one.

Pick’n’mix morality- pay someone to do your assignments

To say the society we live in has a pick’n’mix approach to morality is no surprise. Even in the church the same is true  often exemplified in the vitriol shown in abortion debates, or even those who champion justice being slow to make any comment on the injustice of abortion. It now seems the ministers and pastors of the future in the states are learning to pick and choose at seminary.

“I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America’s moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked.”

It seems with a little google searching its possible to be an ‘expert’ and write on everything:

In the past year, I’ve written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you won’t find my name on a single paper. I’ve written toward a master’s degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I’ve worked on bachelor’s degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I’ve written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration

At around $2000 per assignment of which he rakes in half.

Obviously this not only raises worrying questions about seminary students who have no scruples about such blatant cheating, but more so about an education system (and students) who have lost the focus on learning in the rush for results…

The number one attribute employees want in a boss is integrity. I wonder how long that will last with a generation who don’t know what integrity is. The thing that staggers me is how these students cope with the rest of their courses and jobs at the other end (never mind where they get the cash to pay for it).

It reminds me that many of us in the western/northern world see education as a right instead of the privilege that it is.

The credit crunch – a prophet speaks…

Ann Pettifor has always impressed me from her time heading up Jubilee 2000, which became the Jubliee Debt Campiagn, and she had lots of interesting things to say at Greenbelt, but this article in the Guardian on Saturday is incredible…

‘And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

“And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” – Matthew 21:12-13.

Let us make no bones about it. This financial crisis is a major spiritual crisis. It is the crisis of a society that worships at the temples of consumption, and that has isolated and often abandoned millions of consumers now trapped on a treadmill of debt. It is the crisis of a society that values the capital gains of the rentier more highly than the rights of people to a home, or an education or health. It is the crisis of a society that idolises money above love, community, wellbeing and the sustainability of our planet. And it is a crisis, in my view, for faith organisations that have effectively colluded in this idolatry, by tolerating the sin of usury.

I define usury as the exalting of money values over human and environmental values; of creating money at no cost and lending at rates of interest intended to accumulate reserves of unearned income. Of reaping that which one did not sow.

Christians began to dilute the sin of usury as far back as the 1500s. John Eck, supported by the Fugger banking family, in his book Tractates contractu quinque de centum (1515), defended 5% as an acceptable rate of interest as long as the borrower and lender mutually agreed to the loan. Martin Luther took exception to this laxity, and raged that “heathen were able, by the light of reason, to conclude that a usurer is a double-dyed thief and murderer. We Christians, however, hold them in such honour that we fairly worship them for the sake of their money … Meanwhile, we hang the small thieves … Little thieves are put in the stocks, great thieves go flaunting in gold and silk.”

Luther’s views were regarded as fanatical and were to be firmly displaced by the teachings of John Calvin (1509-1564) whose writings altered the status of the usurer in society. Instead of arguing in effect that loans should be “natural” or sustainable, Calvin argued that interest is lawful, provided that it does not exceed an official maximum.

Calvin said that when Christ said “lend hoping for nothing in return”, that meant we should help the poor freely. He dissected two Hebrew words for usury – neshek meant “to bite”, tarbit meant “to take legitimate increase” – and argued that only “biting” loans were forbidden. Thus one could lend at interest to business people who would make a profit using the money.

In what was to be an epic shift, the Christian goalposts had been moved; by Eck and then Calvin. Whereas Islam remained opposed to interest and usury, elites in Christian societies were given permission to decide on a rate of interest.

Today, unscrupulous moneychangers like the head of Lehman Brothers stand condemned by millions – robbed of their money, their pensions, their homes and their futures. Too late, the moneychangers have taken their gains and fled, leaving bankruptcy, losses and a systemic global financial crisis behind.

“Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money,” Roosevelt said of other unscrupulous moneychangers in 1933. “Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish. The moneychangers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilisation. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.”

As a first step to applying those social values, we may bring back the ancient truth that usury is a sin.

We need more modern day prophets, more like Walter Rauschenbusch

biofuels and the real credit crisis

The ‘global credit crunch’ is dominating our news stories, economy, spending and even making it into church sermons. People are worried about the drop in value of the property market – which well certainly in parts of East Belfast was artificially inflated by greedy property investors. Economic growth is slowing, the exchange rate with the euro is not good (for my cross border forays, good for those coming to the pound-zone). In this worry and obsession with the good times slowing, I am grateful for papers like the Independant who can remind us of the real crisis in the global economy. I’ve been reading snippets of this over the last months, but few news outlets are prepared to make it front page news. Maybe partly because it puts our issues in perspective and gives the Daily Mail less to be alarmist about – although I’m sure they’ll find a way to blame immigrants.

It seems we have got ourselves (globally) in trouble with environmental alternatives. Biofuels the great answer to rising fossil fuel transportation costs are causing a real crisis among the poorest countries in the world. Crops that are used for biofuels are also used by milions for food. So when the increasing demand for fuel drives prices up, that means the cost of basic staple foods rises too, and who does it affect the most? The poorest. Those with no voice. This isn’t a little problem. There have been protests in Haiti, the Philippines, Burkina Faso, Tortilla Riots in Mexico and protests in Italy. Western farmers are enjoying the bumper profits but at what cost? Newspapers have been reporting this and warning that we may be sleepwalking towards a food crisis. Ordinary punters like us can change the minds of the powerful, but with this one its so huge – where do we start – any suggestions?

[I’m off to suggest to Tearfund this may be a badger – who to badger is the question though..]

Suing the poor – vulture funds and is God a capitalist?

This article – Vultures leave the developing world hungry (a response to ‘How top London law firms help vulture funds devour their prey‘) made me sit bolt upright when reading my Saturday Guardian this morning. My non-economist understanding seems to be that these ‘vulture’ funds buy debt of Heavily Indebted Poor countries (HIPC’s), countries like Zambia, Congo and Tanzania which are receiving debt relief. These companies or funds then sue the governments of those countries for more than what they paid for the debt. It seems crazy, morally repungent and many other phrases that this should be allowed to happen. Talk about stealing from the poor to make money! Is this the logical conclusion of a capitalist system that is all about profit – the poor always get oppressed? The growing global rich-poor divide seems to be damning evidence. Given Gordon Brown’s commitments to the fight against global poverty I for one will be dropping him a line about this horrific state of affairs of companies making money at the expense of those who have little enough choices and hope as it is.

It reminds me of several conversations about faith and economics and remembering a comment from someone from the States who said “well, i think god would be a capitalist”. I remember the shock and horror that arose – did he just say that? Especially after an articulate explanation from a theology professor on economics and the bible. We cannot and should not equate Christian faith with one economic system but it is undeniable that a capitalist system with its exploitation of the poor is certainly less aligned with the teaching of the bible than a Christian socialist model that wants a more even distribution of wealth. Of course there are lots of caveats there. Believing that the capitalist model of free markets etc is the best way to lift people out of poverty is different that simply believing in capitalism. It worries me that the church seems to have imbibed so much of capitalism and ignored so much of the Bible, of the God who is concerned about poverty, who asks his people to look out for the poor, to live generously, who designed an economic system that would have avoided long term poverty. The example of the early church who shared everything, who gave sacrificially (as God has asked – to give/lend until the person is no longer in need, not just give a bit to ease our conscience) is one to remember. Certainly what stood out to me in Peru this summer was the thankfulness and generosity of people who were less concerned with what they had and more with how others were. Maybe on some of this the church in Europe and the States has become too ‘of the world’ as opposed to ‘in it’., we have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in the southern church.
soapbox – confusing himself with economics but the red light on his injustice-ometer is flashing brightly

**UPDATE** Tearfund’s Superbadger takes on the vultures here.

Great Sporting Lies and Humility

” We are being asked to believe that, less than a week after the great upheaval, players who regarded Mourhino as their mentor have thrown their lot in with someone who they ahve reason to suspect may have hastened their beloved manager’s exit. T’s like saying Larry, Adam and The Edge would barely look up from their royalty checks if Bono were dumped in favour of James Blunt…”
Read the rest here

I’ve been doing a fair bit of training over the last couple of weeks – for new staff of our ever growing plot to change the world through students. I’ve been ranting a lot about the Bible as I have done here too. Jaybercrow and Zoomtard also have a lot of good stuff to say on the subject. One of the things i keep coming back to and trying to live as well as hammer into people [constantly emphasise is maybe a better phrase in this context as has been pointed out!], is a sense of humility. A wise lecturer commented a couple of days ago that their is a significant difference between arguing about the ‘authority of the bible’ and our ‘interpretation of the bible’. Often we confuse the two. If someone doesn’t agree with your interpretation, its easy to claim they don’t respect the authority of the bible. and again its a classic example of trying to make ourselves feel better by making someone else feel small and claiming superiority. Which is not humility. Which is not the way of Jesus. Humility is not about winning and losing. Humility respects that other people’s opinions are not snatched out of the air. Humility realises that we don’t know it all, that other people have much to contribute to helping us understand God, the world, each other. In fact I think that’s part of what is behind Paul’s teaching on the church as a body. God does not make us self sufficient. We do not have all we need by ourselves. We need others for their gifts, skills, wisdom and experience. I think this is also what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 3 – ” that you may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge”.
Time to stop and begin living humbly – realising others have much to teach us, that we need others. As someone working with students I see it all the time – sometimes at 19 or 20 people think they know it all and don’t need anyone else. It’s something I, as someone who always knows the right way to do things – my way, has had to learn the hard way and come to appreciate much more over the years. We need other people. a large part of humility is realising that.

the soapbox – coming after your money

Egg all over the fomula one and football faces

So Fernando Alonso certainly does come across as a petulant little boy – threatening to dob in his own team if they didn’t make him the big boy of the team. I guess he is a double world champion and is having to live a little in the shadow of his boy wonder team-mate. How Alonso kept his points is certainly miraculous. Jackie Stewart’s claims of bias toward Ferrari did look a little silly after the publication of the emails the next day. Apparently its par for the course in Formula One and we really shouldn’t be surprised, McLaren are just the ones who have got caught, big style and hauled over the coals. But does that make it ok? Is honesty and integrity fast becoming a thing of the past?

And then there’s Stephen Ireland of Man City, who got caught spinning a bizarre web of lies in the midst of his girlfriend’s tragic miscarriage. Proof that when we start lying it gets harder and harder to own up to the truth. Seeing his granny who he claimed had died will be interesting. I didn’t realise football clubs and associations went to such lengths to check things out though.

An elaborate web of lies is what much of the media are insinuating the McCanns have been spinning. Its strange how the media has turned on the couple – in much down to the Portugese police. I’ve no idea what actually happened but people are very quick to crucify the McCann’s. If they are innocent it’s another example of lives scarred and ruined by the over-zealous media. If it turns out they were involved in Maddy’s death they certainly have spun an incredibly elaborate web of lies.

Soapbox – off to invest in Northern Rock

Paint, holiday camps and ethical tourism – Peru part 4

Leaving Caraballyo was an emotional experience. Although some of our Spanish wasn’t great we had formed bonds and built friendships with many of the people there, especially Cara and Emma who had been before as part of the UUJ team. The warmth and generosity of the people in San Martin as they welcomed ‘the gringos’ won’t be easily forgotten.

Our next task was a spot of painting in casa AGEUP, repainting the exterior cream from its original light blue. Painting was great fun, the girls seem to get more over themselves than the walls and a few white handprints appeared on people’s clothing. Its often nice to do something you see tangible results with, which was definitely the case here.

Next stop was English Encounter 2007 – and English Camp for Peruvian students. Around 25 of us headed off to a little holiday camp in a part of Lima where the sun actually shone for some intense English speaking, English lessons and English bible studies. We enjoyed not just a bit of sun but the opportunity to really get to know the students, and in many ways it would have been great to have the camp nearer the start so we could have continued to deepen those relationships and continue conversations. No camp is complete without a campfire which eventually lit with the help of a little gasoline, although we almost lost Rob in the process!

After the team holiday (in a post to come) there really was the sense of beginning to come home. we lost Jo in Cusco, as she stayed on to go visit Puno and Lake Titykaka. Before Cara flew out on the 10th we had a goodbye dinner with the guys from AGEUP. Apart from being some of the best chicken and chips i’ve had it was a really emotional evening with more than the odd tear shed. The AGEUP staff – Juan, Yenny, Adela (and her husband Juan) , and Jose have been incredible in how they welcomed us, loved us and looked after us. The warmth of that love was so evident that night, despite the language barriers. It has been a real privilege to be part of their family and we’re really going to miss them. One of the things we did notice is that Peruvians and Irish people do seem to share a similar cheeky sense of humour, not only did we feel incredible loved but we had so much fun with them. There will be more reflections to come im sure and one definately has been how thankful, generous, affectionate and loving the christians we met in Peru are. We definitely have a lot to learn from them…
Some of the Peruvian dancing was also strangely familiar:

property – the new pornography or the new religion?

I’ve been reading David McWillliams book – ‘the Pope’s children‘ on the dramatic changes that have swept Ireland since the Pope last visited. Its fascinating stuff – particularly the baby boom 9 months after the Pope visited. JP the second obviously acted as some sort of weird aphrodisiac! McWilliams talks about property being the ‘new pornography’ and about how its impossible to have a conversation in Ireland without it turning to property prices at some point. He’s right. We’re obsessed. We even camp out to make sure we get the developments being released. Its all about getting onto the property ladder. While I do concede the good investment argument and all that there is something disturbing about it all. As a non property owner I frequently get bored during house chat – all very well if you can afford it, but spare a thought for the many people who can’t. Harshly put sometimes people who used to be interesting become boring when all they have to talk about are houses and furniture… Why are we so obsessed? I was at B&Q earlier getting a bbq and the place was bunged – some people go to church on Sundays, a lot of the rest go to B&Q. I can’t imagine what it will be like when ikea comes to Belfast. TV is coming down with home/garden improvement shows. In 21st century Ireland and Britain it seems as if people worship their houses. Many people put themselves in crazy debt to have the right furniture, patio or decking. Why? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying where we live but there is something disturbing going on. It seems as if people’s worth and security are wrapped up in their houses, in how their kitchen looks, in how big their fridge (with built in ice dispenser) or flat screen plasma TV is. We need to keep upgrading and updating to be happy. Were our grandparents generation miserable because they didn’t have all this stuff? Is there something here about the erosion of community? Where does our sense of security and self-worth fit into all this?

I’ve spent some time in Africa and South America and found that people who don’t have all this stuff, who don’t worship at the altar of consumerism seem to be able to be content, and indeed maybe have their priorities in a much better place… but then to make comments and ask some of these questions in this area isn’t terribly popular…