Responsible for the lives of others
the sixth commandment :'do not kill'
Claudine lives in Baffoussam, a place in Cameroon. There was a time she had a full flock of chickens with which she could support her family. Until European countries, among which The Netherlands, started to ship frozen chickens at dump prices to Cameroon. Claudine and her colleague-chicken farmers could not compete with these below market value imports and lost their source of income. Between 1996 and 2002, thanks to the European export policy, 90% of the chicken farmers in Cameroon went bankrupt. Poverty is a disaster for these farmers but also for the economy of this developing country......
' do not kill'
'Do not kill', according to the sixth commandment; God prohibits in the Old Testament to take the life of an other person. In the New Testament Jesus teaches that the meaning of this commandment goes a lot deeper than killing and murdering alone, a lot deeper than 'not killing'. It also means that our actions should not cause death, directly or indirectly. And our actions do cause death when we take other people's livelihood away.
Not killing is not enough. It also means that we do not harbour evil thoughts: hate, envy and greed. (Sermon on the Mount). The sixth commandment teaches that we do not harm the other, hurt or cause damage. It functions as an extension of Loving our neighbour as ourselves and stronger even in a more active sense: stimulating, facilitating the well being of the other. In this way the commandment touches directly upon our daily lives, the worldwide gap between poor and rich comes to be seen in a completely different light and we have to face up to what we are responsible for : the deadly consequences of our Free Market practices in the Third World.
What may make perfect sense from an economic perspective, may completely be at odds with what the this Commandment teaches us.
It also comes into play in the way we save and invest our savings. There is nothing wrong with profit and return on investment, but investing in businesses that deal in child labour, extortionist practices in women's labour or that are involved in illegal weapons trade, clashes violently with the intention of the sixth commandment.
Stimulating a world in which also the very weakest can breathe, is the mission of an organization as the VBDO (Association of Investors for Sustainable Development). This organization of investors encourages enterprises to engage in management practices that take into account not only the bottomline (profit), but also the people involved and the planet (environment). In fact there is another bottomline that is just as important.
The protestant-christian development organization (ICCO) is of the same line of thinking.
" As soon as someone else's life becomes impossible, then we have to feel responsible for it", explains managing director Jack van Ham. ICCO offers development aid, but directs itself increasingly toward the improvement of honest trade by assisting among other things entrepreneurs from the Third World to market their products here.
That is a concrete, economic development oriented response to the sixth commandment.
Van Ham: “The EU is one of the strongest economies in the world. If and when we realize that we do not live solely for ourselves and our own interests, then we have to use our wealth to improve the lives of others.”
At this moment the ICCO is involved with other organizations, in actions against the pressure the EU is putting on African countries, to agree with the new free trade agreements. These so called Economic Partner Agreements (EPA's) have to widen the trade between the EU and Africa. In theory free trade should benefit the African farmers, but the reality is often different, says van Ham.
Chicken farmers in Cameroon discovered that, and so did the cotton farmers in Benin and the coffee farmers in Honduras.
"ICCO is not against liberalization of world trade, but against pressure on the poor countries to have to compete when the playing field is far from level, in fact when so many odds are stacked against them.
Less developed economies should first be given the room to grow and evolve into equal partners on a level playing field. At the Olympics we don't let people in a wheelchair compete in a track-and-field race."
ICCO accuses the EU-negotiators of abuse of power. They intended to threaten the African countries with higher import tariffs, if they would not agree to the new free trade agreements. On top of that they were planning to make the previously promised aid packages conditional upon the signing of the new agreements .
This would be a very short sighted`approach that does not serve any party well in the long run.
Van Ham: " There was a time that the starting point for trade agreements was that they were to reduce poverty. Now free trade is the starting point. That is an essential difference, for the result of the free trade agreements that the EU wants to arrange with Africa, threatens to benefit only the wealthy north and a few elite groups in the Third World.. Under the pretense of free trade a choice is being made to keep the inequality in place".
In fact it is another prime example where the economic aspect is given priority over everything else and as such the economic aspect suffers too since there is severe reductionism taking place within the economic.
When contemplating the sixth commandment, one cannot but also think of the command to love your neighbour as yourself. In other words the sixth commandment has much further reaching implications than a mere 'do not kill'.
Being our brother's keeper takes us to the next level of responsibility: facilitating well being.
Close at home and on the other side of the planet.
And that is the way in which trade relationships should get their framework established. Trade Agreements should once again find their origins and starting points in the development of the wealth of this planet and thereby the elimination of poverty. Only then will we all be faring well.
As an interesting aside :
Kiva.org is an organization started in San Francisco in 2005 by Matt and Jessica Flannery to help aspiring entrepreneurs in the developing world with loans a little as $25.-
Loans are interest free, however the lender does pay an administrative fee.
The strength of the program is in the number of people that participate and the complete openness.
You can see the other participants that are contributing to the same project. The loans are paid back over a period of time. Usually from three to 18 months.
It does make economic sense, but from a completely different perspective.