A Franciscan Theology of Stuff: Consumerism, Human Trafficking and Franciscan Action

By: David B. Couturier, OFM. Cap.

Introduction

Franciscans have been working internationally at the United Nations to raise awareness about the issue of the trafficking of human persons and other contemporary forms of slavery since the 1980’s.[1] Franciscans have also been organizing advocacy efforts in this area in the United States since 2007 through the agency of FAN (The Franciscan Action Network).[2] And numerous congregations of Franciscan women and men have become vocal advocates for men, women and children who continue to be trafficked for sexual and commercial purposes here and around the world in record numbers.[3]

Franciscans are now joining the efforts of researchers worldwide who have widened the scope of their investigation from the supply side of human trafficking (what happens to the men, women, and children who are being trafficked) to the demand side of human trafficking (the businesses whose long supply chains, contractors and sub-contractors, serve up exploited and forced labor, especially of children). We notice today with great alarm the kidnapping and trafficking of tens of thousands of persons each year across borders in attempts to lower prices of production and maximize profits for some of the world’s most respected companies. Work is now being done to expose and eradicate the supply chains that provide cover and legitimacy to the practice of modern forms of human slavery.

In this article, I would like to do three things. First, I would like to describe this “demand” side of human trafficking, giving a brief overview of the scope of this growing moral tragedy, as it erupts in the cities and suburbs of America. Second, I would like to describe how we as consumers have become “complicit participants” in this worldwide economic scheme of human exploitation in the name of expedited goods at ever lower prices. Third, I’d like to discuss how a new Franciscan “theology of stuff” can begin a reversal of these trends. I will argue that the Franciscan vision of the dignity of the human person and its fraternal vision of economics postulate a fundamental re-enchantment of the world and thus calls for a re-thinking of our ordinary relation to “consumerables” and “deliverables” in the workplace.

(Included at the bottom of this page is a link to the Power Point presentation as well as Fr. Couturier's paper as a Word document)




[1] For an overview of these international efforts, cf. the various publications developed and distributed by Franciscans International, the NGO that represents the world’s Franciscans at the United Nations. Silvia Palonba and Sr. Namrata Joseph, Modern Slavery in India: Cases of Bonded Labour (Franciscans International Publications, 2012); Courtney Griffin, Anti-Trafficking in US Law (Franciscans International Publications, 2006); Yao Agbete, Handbook on Human Trafficking (Franciscans International Publications, 2004).

[3] The list of congregations is too large to note here but  includes among others: The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, The School Sisters of St. Francis (PA), the Sisters of St Francis of the Providence of God, the Felician Sisters, and the Franciscan Sisters of Peace, among many others.

 

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