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The High Cost of Cheap

I love a bargain. Whether I'm buying clothing, groceries, or other supplies, I enjoy knowing I got a deal. I can even dress it up in spiritual clothes, claiming I'm being a "good steward" of my resources by being thrifty.

Unfortunately, cheap sometimes has a hidden price tag. The prices of certain goods—from soccer balls to candy bars—are low because the people who produce them are paid little or nothing for their labor. The laborers in sweatshops and harvesters on plantations pay a dear price so that we can have, by our own admission, too much food and too much stuff.

I love bargains, but I also want to live a compassionate life—and lead others to do the same. To do so, I must look beyond the price tag on an item to its hidden price.

More people are trapped in slavery today than at the height of the slave trade of the 1800s. Most are virtually invisible. Many are children. The Bible is very clear: if I am saving money by exploiting the poor (which I am doing if I buy products made with slave labor), that is exactly the opposite of good stewardship.

For example, most of the world's chocolate is made on plantations in Africa, especially the Ivory Coast, where there are more than 100,000 child slaves working on cocoa plantations. The cocoa beans are harvested by hand, usually by young children—children who have never even tasted chocolate. These children are denied an education, and sometimes beaten or not fed if they do not meet their harvest quotas. Many are lured with the promise a paying job, but they end up enslaved. Their lives are the price of cheap chocolate. (Learn more at www.slavefreechocolate.org .)

We might throw up our hands at the injustice, but think there is nothing we can do, or that the problem is too huge. Such thinking is truly ignoring the plight of the poor, trading our comfort for theirs.

Centuries ago, God told his people: "For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed."

Does God still care about how our way of life, our insatiable use of resources, denies justice to the oppressed? Of course he does. He cares about the high cost of cheap.

The Bible says, "Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right." Do our buying patterns maintain justice, or do they perpetuate injustice (even if we are unaware of it)?

October23, 2009 at 4:19 PM

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