Social justice advocate discusses ‘violence of globalization’

CHERRY HILL — On Monday, July 19, author and social justice activist Vincent A. Gallagher spoke to an audience of 30 at St. Mary’s Parish here, discussing his book, “The True Cost of Low Prices: The Violence of Globalization.”

Acknowledging that his 2008 book is “pretty disturbing,” Gallagher argued that poor counties are victimized under the current global economy. In his book he describes “the magnitude and severity of the injustice and injury that result from the policies of the international financial institutions that hold tremendous power over the economies of poor countries.”

A Peace and Justice Educators Award winner from Camden’s Romero Center, Gallagher served from 1964-66 in the Peace Corps in Venezuela, and has spent 34 years working in the field of worker injury and disease prevention, evaluating dangerous environments throughout Latin America for organizations such as the World Bank, The United Nations International Labor Organization, and the World Health Organization.

He has visited steel mills, petrochemical and chemical companies, food processing facilities, and electrical power generation plants.

In a slideshow presentation, Gallagher showed pictures of the atrocities he’s seen:

— A little boy in Guatemala City working in a dump, trying to find paper, bottles, metal and plastic to sell to help his impoverished family, risking exposure to biological waste, human waste, industrial waste, sharp glass, and metal.

— Garment slaveworkers in Bangladesh roped together.

— Factory equipment without safety standards in Peru.

— Severely malnourished children in Haiti.

All these problems in developing countries, he argued, have come from the political legal, and economic policies fostered by global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, and the World Bank.

These institutions, he said, made financial agreements with the developing countries in the 1970s by giving them loans.

As developing countries got deeper in debt, Gallagher argued, these institutions required these debtor nations to establish Structural Adjustment Programs, and restructure their economy to pay off the debt, by allowing developed, richer countries and transnational organizations the opportunity to get exported goods cheaply. This, in turn, has brought the less developed countries further in debt, and these structural adjustment policies have contributed, as well, to these poor countries disregarding the health and safety of employees and residents, to make money.

“Isn’t it violent to produce goods with unguarded machines that amputate,” he told the audience. “Isn’t it violent if an entire farm worker community suffers central nervous system disorders, brain damage, birth defects, nightmare, suicides, or death from exposure to highly toxic pesticides banned in the developed countries, but marketed by transnational corporations throughout the poor nations?”

Gallagher argued for a Christian vision that recognizes the plight of those oppressed by political, economic, or social structures, and calls for their freedom. In doing so, he said, we are acting as Jesus did, and showing love to the poor and suffering.

Although the media might hide these problems, he said, Christians must understand them, pray, and get the message across about these injustices.

“We can bring (the importance of) social justice to our parish,” and have them spread it to others, said Tom Clark, a parishioner at St. Mary’s. “We need to bring justice” to the oppressed.

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