A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘human rights

Browsing at the bookstore ranks high among my favourite things to do. The latest fiction, cookbooks, journals, magazines…I could easily while away an hour or so just looking around. And my favourite spot is the clearance section. I often find great gifts and reads for myself.

One bargain find was A Brief History of Tea: The Extraordinary Story of the World’s Favourite Drink by Roy Moxham, which I’ve finally had a chance to read. I enjoyed learning about the tea production process but was stunned to read about the evolution of the industry in China, India, Sri Lanka and Malawi, with workers tied into long contracts with low pay, poor living conditions, and serious health risks.

Sadly, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same:

  • The April 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh took the lives of more than 1 000 garment industry workers, who’d been told to return to work even after cracks had been discovered in the building.
  • In February 2014, the World Bank was asked to investigate conditions on tea plantations in India’s Assam state. Workers alleged, among other things, that their homes were in poor repair and that they and their families had been denied health care.
  • Over the past year, workers’ rights groups have called attention to labour conditions in Qatar for migrant workers building the infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, alleging that workers are not paid and are denied adequate food and water.
  • Last week, the UN Human Rights Committee released a report on human rights in Canada that recommended creating an effective and independent body to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating in other countries.

This isn’t just a question of companies’ behaviour and its effect on their corporate image; it’s a question of human dignity.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, makes a number of comments about human dignity, including this one:

The Bible teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). This shows us the immense dignity of each person….

These days, we’re more likely to look for eco-friendly, organic and natural products, but maybe we don’t give enough consideration to whether the workers who produced a given item receive a fair wage, have decent living conditions, and see their human rights respected. We need to pay more attention to news of human rights violations by companies. And we need to pray and advocate for better working and living conditions for workers, keeping in mind these words that call on us to respect workers’ human dignity:

He who oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth,

or gives to the rich, will only come to want. (Proverbs 22:16*)

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,

and his upper rooms by injustice;

who makes his neighbour serve him for nothing

and does not give him his wages…” (Jeremiah 22:13)

Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. (James 5:4)

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

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I’m a little uncomfortable with the way we speak about human rights today.

This weekend, I read in the Ottawa Citizen article “World’s last legal ban on divorce causes misery” about the challenges of ending a marriage in the Philippines. One senator in that nation contends that “divorce is a basic human right.”

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court of Canada will begin hearing arguments in the Carter case, which hinges on the question of whether physician-assisted dying is a human right.

And a quick Google search on the phrase “abortion is a human right”—or even “abortion is a basic human right”—turns up many results.

Views on issues such as divorce, euthanasia and abortion vary, both in society in general and among Catholics.

But when I think about rights and freedoms, I think about things such as the right to life, liberty and security of the person; the right to vote; freedom of religion; and freedom of thought and expression—things essential to living in safety and participating in society as equal members, as we read about in s. 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

And s. 1935 of the Catechism tells us this about human rights:

The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it:

Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, colour, social conditions, language or religion, must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.

The language of rights must come into play when we want to head to the polls. When we want to move to another province or state to find work to support our family. When we want to choose the place where we worship. When we want to speak up for those here or in other nations who are refused an education based on their gender, denied the freedom of expression or of peaceful assembly, prevented from holding a job based on their ethnicity or religion, subjected to unreasonable searches or torture, detained with no access to counsel, or imprisoned without a fair trial.

I pray that we would use the language of rights carefully and that we would pray and advocate for those whose fundamental human rights are denied.


Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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