Martin Luther King Jr., the American civil rights champion and Christian minister, once said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” He saw a future in which human rights and equal access to opportunity were for everyone.

The term “social justice” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities and privileges within a society.” This definition, however, becomes problematic in our increasingly global context. What if “society” is literally the whole world?

How does The Salvation Army seek fairness in the distribution of wealth, opportunities and privileges across international borders? Here are a few concepts to consider as we grapple with the implications of living justly in a global village.

1. Partners, not donors. Historically, the approach to addressing social issues across borders was to write a cheque or send a container of goods to developing countries. In our donor mentality, we believed our role was to give them some of our plenty. However, there is a power imbalance in this relationship that should concern people seeking social justice. With time, and partly because the donor mentality failed to produce the development we hoped, we migrated to an approach of partnership. A partner is an equal, not a “beneficiary.” A partner can tell us what is needed to bring about change in their situation. A partner is someone we respect. Any relationship must be built on trust, and trust comes from knowing our partner. The difference between being a donor and being a partner is the depth of relationship, with a relatively equal balance of power where both partners can express themselves freely.

2. Work with, not for. We need to remember that the people we work with are active, not passive, agents in their own stories. They have strengths, skills, hopes and dreams. As we come alongside them in their desire to seek justice, some helpful questions are: What is your hope for this situation? How can we work together to see this vision realized?

3. Think globally, act locally. By their very nature, social justice issues are multi-faceted. As supply chains and markets cross international borders, so does injustice. Therefore, so must our response. One example is child labour. Children in countries such as India and Bangladesh are co-opted to work long hours in sweatshops for little money, to produce clothing sold on our shelves for high profit margins. In the Ivory Coast, for example, chocolate producers employ children to pick cocoa beans.

The Salvation Army’s “Others” initiative ( is one attempt to address social injustice such as poverty and child labour. Women from developing economies are paid a fair wage to produce goods that are sold in international markets. Because of this, these women can earn a decent wage, support their families and keep their children in school. It’s a wonderful example of partnership and working “with,” not “for.”

However, we can take other actions right here at home that can also make a huge impact. As consumers, we can use our voices and our buying power to insist that clothing stores root out suppliers who use child labour. We can insist that chocolate companies certify that they do not employ children, either directly or through their suppliers. We can spend our money on fairly traded products whenever possible. We can educate ourselves and create awareness of these issues in our corps and circles of influence about how our actions have a ripple effect that can be felt around the world.

Social justice is in our DNA as Salvationists—from Booth’s match factory to the Others dishcloths in my kitchen. Let’s mobilize here and abroad to partner with those seeking justice for themselves and their communities, to work with and not for and to be mindful of the effects of our actions.

Questions for Reflection:
  • What principles or policies guide the Army’s purchase of goods that are manufactured internationally? Do we seek the lowest prices or are we willing (or even encouraged) to pay more for fairly traded products?
  • How do we work in partnership with our international communities (not only with Salvation Army project personnel, but with local community representatives who receive international funding)? Who gives voice to the vision and scope of these international projects?
  • We live in one of the richest and most developed countries in the world. What further steps can our ministry units, divisions and territory take in order to facilitate fairness in the distribution of wealth, opportunities and privileges across international borders?

Stacey Dlamini is the worship leader at Westville Corps, N.S.

Feature photo: © woraput/

Leave a Comment