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How can we say the dignity of a person who works full time is being respected when their wages are so low that they need the support of food banks?

By Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle

Near the end of April, a challenge was issued via social media, to boycott a particular large grocer and all its subsidiaries for the month of May.

This grocer’s net profits – that is profits after all expenses, taxes, dividends, and salaries have been paid – exceeded $2 billion in 2023. In other words, after paying all bills, this corporation was able to bank over $2 billion in 2023 alone. This is after banking over $1.9 billion in 2022 and $1.8 billion in 2021.

While this company was banking so much money, prices on goods continued to increase significantly and wages, at least for most workers, remained as low as possible. In fact, at the end of 2023, the new CEO of the corporation earned over $3.75 million in salary, benefits, and bonuses for the first 60 days of the role. Since most employees make little more than minimum wage, this means the CEO earned 100 times more in 60 days than the cashiers and other front-line workers earned over the entire year.

At what point do we look at these profits and these business practices and ask: how much money is enough? How much is too much? What needs to happen before we recognize the priorities of a corporation as unjust? What are we prepared to do when we see injustice?

How much is enough? How much is too much?

These are important questions when we are engaging in the Marks of Mission including the call to transform unjust structures of society, challenge violence of every kind, and pursue peace and reconciliation.

Those of us who take seriously the baptismal covenant in which we commit to respect the dignity of every human being should also recognize that low wages and high prices make it extremely difficult for hard working people to afford the basic necessities.

How can we say the dignity of a person who works full time is being respected when their wages are so low that they need the support of food banks? How can we call a system just when what gets ‘trickled down’ leaves workers vulnerable and in need? What does it look like to transform such unjust structures?

Boycotts, when there are sufficient participants, can impact the financial circumstances of a corporation and thus send a powerful message. Boycotts, however, are only one tool in the work to transform unjust structures. Letter writing, including writing to politicians and to the customer support divisions of organizations can also convey important messages about social priorities especially when these are not the same as that of corporations. Petitions can be a further tool to communicate an interest in transformation.

We can also shift our buying power and subsequently send a message. To what extent can we purchase directly from farmers through markets and other local resources? This would allow us to by-pass the large grocers and still support those doing the work of producing our food.

This is particularly possible in Southwestern Ontario in the spring through fall. We have stands by the side of roads, and local farmers markets that include a bounty of God’s wonderful creation beginning with fiddleheads and asparagus in the spring and ending with squash and apples in the fall. What a delicious way to transform unjust structures and safeguard the integrity of Creation!

Writing this article at the end of April, I don’t know to what extent the May boycott will be effective. As one who is committed to transforming unjust structures, I am happy to do what I can to send a message that people should come before profits.

I am also happy to buy local as much as possible trusting this is a way we can live the Marks of Mission one delicious bite at a time.

May we all enjoy the bounty of God’s Creation in ways that help transform the unjust structures of society this spring and beyond.

Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle is a co-chair of SEJH and a co-chair of Justice League of Huron.