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A Catholic Amway To End Sweatshop Economics

August 7, AD2013 8 Comments

\"Francis

I wanted to follow up on last month’s article WWJD About Sweatshops. I think for many people, just the mere suggestion that you oppose sweatshop economics, arouses suspicion that one is anti-capitalistic, perhaps a socialist. I want to set the record straight by offering up some practical solutions to the dreaded global sweatshop phenomenon. I’m not opposed to a well-regulated economy, but for some people, bringing up government regulations can be a non-starter, and I want to transcend the usual arguments between the statist and the libertarian. I’m in favor of drawing upon the organization of the Catholic Church to form healthy economic relationships between producers, consumers, and the middle-men who connect the dots.

Many moons ago, while still a single man, I had a married friend who was trying to build a nest egg early on in his marriage, but seeing that he was in youth ministry- his options were limited. He and his wife invited me over for dinner and discussion of a “business idea”. The business idea turned out to be joining their Amway distribution team.

I was in no position to get involved but I played along out of pure friendship. I attended a couple of the Amway “pep rallies” which were guaranteed to make any red blooded American salivate with visions of naked greed, tempered by Christian suggestions to use some of the excess loot for charity causes. I recall feelings of strange enthusiasm and sadness over the mixing of too many metaphors, holiness and grabbing the brass ring baby! In any case, I bought a kit from my friends out of pity, with no intent to do any distributing or recruiting. Just not my cup of tea at the time.

Now as far as I understand, Amway is a perfectly legitimate business model and relies on grassroots marketing. I think we can baptize it. With my concerns over the labor and environmental conditions in the background of much of the stuff I (we) buy, it seems to me that creating a “Catholic Amway” might just be part of a larger solution to the negative aspects of consumerism. I don’t think that my proposal falls into the category of trying to hide out in a Catholic ghetto, and say the heck with the rest of the world. I already see positive examples of Catholic entities taking up a position in the free economy. We have monks selling computer products (more about them here at National Catholic Register), monks selling coffee, and monks selling beer.

We also have Catholic Relief Services (CRS) offering some Fair Trade opportunities. I’m thinking we could take these excellent examples and build upon them. We have a Church that historically has stepped up to take on roles in society that were in severe crisis or neglect. After the fall of Rome, during the Barbarian times, the Church became an organizer of political and economic activities. I think there are many parallels to the situation of America and the world in general, right now. The need is for the Church to use all her organizational strengths to encourage alternative streams for producers and consumers, with an eye to building up the well-being of the flock, who desire to act as responsible men and women in response to the realities of sweatshops and environmental damage- just like our attempts to bypass the pro-abortion and pro-contraceptives elements in the corporate world.

I don’t see anything wrong with Catholics building up networks of Catholic producers and consumers, and allowing in everyone who wishes to be part of such a thing. Grace builds upon nature, if we as Catholics offer nothing morally unique or better than what the rest of the world offers in the naturalistic realms, then our appeal to the unconverted will certainly be very much diminished. If we have Popes who offer up nice platitudes about our duty to tackle the problems of global and local poverty and injustice, but we fail to utilize our network of parishes and organizations (such as CRS and the Knights of Columbus) to open up a vein in the economy for more justice and mercy in our consumer habits, then what is the point of the nice sounding words?

The virtue of some kind of a “Catholic Amway” means of distribution of goods is that it seems to fulfill the two big demands of our Catholic social doctrine — for solidarity and subsidiarity. We want to help, not hurt people (laborers) with our money, and we need the person-to-person contact at local levels of society, which just so happens to be the way in which our Church has organized herself along parish and diocesan lines. I can see a way forward that doesn’t rely on the goodness of our current political leaders, who would otherwise be charged with trying to regulate the economy to bring more justice and mercy into the system. Add to this the moral situation of the major global corporate forces, and one can easily see that if relief and rescue is coming- it probably is going to have to be a very Catholic-specific intervention.

Filed in: Business

About the Author:

I am an adult convert to Catholicism. I take on the name of Francis to honor Pope Francis I, and to acknowledge my place of theological studies. St. Francis is a Saint who inspires so many of us, and in all of my travels, Assisi is one place I felt such incredible peace. I am now a Catholic school educator with a wonderful wife, and adorable children. I am keenly interested in promoting the Social Doctrine of the Church, having some experience on the campaign trail, and some leadership background with a pro-life organization. As an educator who is trying to assist in the reform of Catholic education, I find it necessary to conceal my name so that I can be as honest as possible without jeopardizing my professional career. I am focused on issues relating to family, to education/evangelization, and to political activity with the goal of promoting the universal common good.

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  • Phil Dzialo

    I am at a loss for words! Amway is a multi layered, pyramid marketing scheme where the vast majority of people at the bottom lose and lose big time. Check out the truth on Rick Ross: http://www.rickross.com/reference/amway/amway53.html
    This is NOT the road for the RCC…the simple truth should sell itself, it needs not be marketed.

    • Francis

      PHIL- I’m using Amway here quite loosely- I think we can use some marketing mechanism to bring together producers and consumers on a much broader scale with social justice at the heart instead of the prevailing norm of “profit, profit, profit”. I described the greed element in Amway and I’m not saying we should follow their pyramid model exactly. I’m not a businessman myself- I leave the specific marketing plan to others to develop- my idea is for the Catholic Church to provide organizational assistance for Catholic non-profits and businesses who are focused on the “both-and” in the economic transaction- is there a just wage? What is the environmental impact? Are the profits transparent and in line with the goal of not ripping anyone off?

    • IntellectGetOne

      Please stop the concept now, before it takes a root in your soul.

      You want a new concept? It should be to serve the customer with love and sacrifice. Let the CUSTOMER profit more than you do.

      That will yield amazing benefits to you, to the customer and to all society.

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  • IntellectGetOne

    Here, I must disagree.

    The missing ingredient is the service to the customer.

    Where there is service; where there is Catholic theology; the server/business will provide the servee/customer with an abundance of value.

    Therein lies the Catholic value of sacrifice.

    Come up with something of value for your customer. Use your God given talents, ideas, hard-work and virtues to solve THEIR problem faster, cheaper better — and then take only a modest portion of the value you have created. Leave the vast majority of that value to the customer.

    That will ensure both your business success and a much stronger/better customer who is happier, healthier, better-off than they were before they met you.

    That’s Catholic economics.

    Your example of buying the amway kit out of some guilt or sense of donation to your friends is exactly wrong/immoral. It exactly puts YOU on a pedestal instead of them.

    Serve the customer like Christ washed the feet of the disciples. You will be left with far, far more than you imagine.

    • Francis

      I wasn’t offering my example of buying the Amway kit out of guilt as representative of my concept of taking the marketing strategy of person-to-person contacts, combined with a connection to quality products created in a decent environment with concern for just wage and the natural environment in the mix- and drawing upon the diocesan system for an organizing principle outside the current big box chain store system. What I’m trying to get at is the creation of an attractive alternative universe to the one currently in vogue- I’m offering some practical suggestions in the face of all the platitudes you mention above. Platitudes are nice to hear but it is the real world implementation that makes for difficulties. “Serve the customer like Christ washed the feet of the disciples” ok, but what about your sweat shop employees? And how is this working in the multinational corporate world where revenues is the first and foremost interest as demanded by the investor shareholding base? If one takes the best of the Amway model in terms of marketing with the Catholic values you describe above, with a quality control check that comes from Catholic organizational certification that the producers, workers, farmers, and the natural environment were all considered in concrete terms that fit with our Catholic social teaching ideals (the platitudes), then this is what I am envisioning. Don’t rush through the article and jump to false conclusions as to the concept I’m presenting here. I’m not saying embrace the Amway greed or make purchases you don’t want out of guilt- that is a false reading of my concept- I was only giving background to my use of the “Amway” name- I was qualifying my useage so no one would think that I was speaking of taking the Amway method literally and with all its limitations.

    • IntellectGetOne

      Good discussion.

      So lets talk numbers.

      There are 100 million businesses in the USA (including sole propritors) and an estimated equal number worldwide.

      The percentage of sweatshop businesses has to be, what?, 0.0001%?

      Trying to “fix” the other 99.9999% just because an infinitesimally small number of shops are ‘sweat shops” is beyond imagination.

      You live in an alternate reality if you honestly believe “the multinational corporate world where revenues is the first and
      foremost interest as demanded by the investor shareholding base.” It may be true that a “shareholder” might want to maximize his/her return, but to think they are ignorant of all the varied aspects that maximize returns is beyond the pale. No institutional shareholder I know would want a company they invest in to screw their employees or screw their customers or screw their communities — not for altruistic reasons — but because those are all BAD (actually hugely BAD) business decisions.

      If investors don’t know that, they are fools. Again, I am talking the 99% of investors. There are some small number of immoral characters. But your worldview is quite preposterous if you think it is anything different than what I am describing.

      You also say this: “comes from Catholic organizational certification that the producers, workers, farmers, and the natural environment were all considered in concrete terms that fit with our Catholic social teaching ideals (the platitudes),”

      What is that? Its not a business, its a regulation. Its not service, it is servitude.

      Look, I’m grateful that you are trying to find a new model and a new way to describe things. But trust me, the way you view the world is wrong (it is based on very public anecdotes) and your solution is utopian “management by structure” versus management by freedom with the right principles.

      Anyway, I think this is a terrific, meaty subject. I wish we had more business schools discussing the issue!

      i really have nothing but respect that you took it on. I disagree, wholehearteldy, with your answer, but I love that you took a stab at it.