Work – vision for a dignified and sustainable future

A manifesto on work, based on the shared values of Christian and secular ethics, has recently been presented at UNESCO by a Jesuit-led team of researchers based in Paris.

“The way we collectively think about and manage work has significant impacts on our quality of life and our environment,” says British Jesuit scholastic Jacques St Laurent SJ, currently in his second year studying Philosophy at Centre Sevres in Paris. Jacques has been working with the Paris-based Centre for Social Research and Action (CERAS), a Jesuit-led group doing research and advocacy on social justice issues.

In response to increasing exploitation of workers and environmental destruction across the globe CERAS has recently completed a two year project to articulate a new vision of work in which care for people and the environment are given primary concern.  Jacques explained the process:
“CERAS drew together a network of researchers and activists striving to understand the challenges faced by labourers, in order to conduct a process of consultation and sharing that led to the publication of a Manifesto for Decent and Sustainable Work. The manifesto draws on Catholic Social Teaching and International Labour Organisation recommendations in order to re-define work in terms that respect the needs of people and the integrity of the environment. It calls for work places to uphold the values of human dignity, social and environmental justice, the common good, high quality work and social-ecological solidarity.”

Rethink our value system

Jacques St Laurent SJThis manifesto was recently presented at an international conference held at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Its launch was preceded by provocative presentations from world leaders in the struggle for social and ecological justice.

Vandana Shiva, the founder of Navdanya, an India-wide movement to protect seed varieties and promote sustainable farming, does not accept the current paradigm of “labour as drudgery – selling yourself to another in unpleasant conditions.” She pointed out that the work of an Indian peasant farmer is not to ‘produce’ food, but to care for the Earth. Our current economic system only gives value to commodities that can be sold. Anything that does not contribute to production and consumption is not valued, including nature and people. “We must rethink our value system,” she urges. Furthermore, ‘robotisation’ and ‘big data’ are being used by corporations to displace people from meaningful work so that they can obtain higher profits. Vandana explained this phenomenon in detail before exclaiming that, “wealth without work is a sin.”

Jacques concludes, “We all need to experience a shift in consciousness with regard to our notion of ‘work’. Work should be equated with care. As Vandana pointed out, if we take care of creation, creation takes care of itself. We need to work in a way that enforces the right of every being on the planet to live a fulfilled life, the right of every child to a dignified future and the right of all exploited workers to reclaim their lives and their freedom.”

Take action for a fairer world

The Jesuits in Britain are offering an MA in Theology Ecology and Ethics co-created with Roehampton University. The MA is designed for students who are concerned about the current environmental challenges faced by our planet and the contribution that faith and theology can make within an interdisciplinary approach to these challenges.  Bursaries are available: