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Practical perspectives on redeeming the supply chain

Through her award winning company, of eyeSlices®, founder and CEO Kerryne Krause is making a tangible contribution to the social justice landscape in South Africa. In this summary of her interview with Ziwani’s Sibs Sibanda, she offers a few practical examples of how Christians can operate as what she calls, a ‘community of conscience.’

Practical perspectives on redeeming the supply chain

‘Linking the supply chain to social justice is not a new idea, nor is it limited to Christian businesspeople,’ says Kerryne. ‘The global retail sector, for example, is putting more and more pressure on brands to audit their supply chains regarding issues such as child labour, minimum wages, mistreatment of minorities, environmental consciousness, and so on.’

So how does redemptive engagement by Christians in business look any different from what ethical business is already doing?

Kerryne answers, ‘The first thing that comes to mind, is motive. God looks at the heart. Many businesses fall in with emerging trends, or contribute to various causes, purely for the sake of positive brand association. But the ‘why’ behind our actions matters – is our aim to be compliant, or to be transformative?’

She continues, ‘God’s Kingdom is often counter-intuitive. In tough economic times, business leaders feel justified in cutting their labour force, or cutting salaries. But would the CEO be prepared to take a salary cut, in order to retain more staff? It is important to be wise, but are they willing to do what is right, as opposed to what is acceptable?’ As a Christian business leader, you are sometimes called to make big sacrifices, without anyone else knowing about it.

Many Christians feel that their role in society is to point out everything that is wrong or evil. Kerryne disagrees, ‘We need to realise that part of our role as agents of redemption is to affirm what is good. Ethical business is already doing so much with respect to auditing the supply chain – and as Christian business leaders we can affirm that it is good, and add momentum to it. Then, we can trust God for even more creativity and wisdom to address social justice issues, and be even more generous in spirit.’

Supporting social justice through manufacturing

Kerryne explains how eyeSlices® supports social justice through redemptive practices in manufacturing.

‘As business owners, even when we don’t have a lot of resources, the one area where we can make a difference is skills development. We need to see the potential in people,’ she says. ‘But I have to confess that this is sometimes a thankless task – you go through all the effort of finding someone, training them, and then they leave you when a better opportunity comes along.’ She continues, ‘At one time, I became disillusioned. I just wanted to employ someone who already had the skills, who could just do their job. I would pay them a good wage, and treat them fairly, but didn’t want to go the extra mile anymore.’ She felt God speak to her, saying, ‘This is not only about your business. You’re putting skills back into the economy, and making a difference in people’s lives. I care about them, too.’

It is good to keep that perspective, Kerryne realised. ‘It isn’t always about us, about our efforts, about our little business ecosystem. Every redemptive action has a knock-on effect, and we shouldn’t become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up,’ as is written in Galatians 6:9.

Another way Kerryne and her team supports social justice through manufacturing, is to support local business. ‘We source 99% of our ingredients, packaging and other manufacturing requirements from South Africa, as opposed to importing from China. We visit our suppliers in person, we know their values – so that we can authentically audit our supply chain, while also stimulating the local economy.’

Even this is not a fail-safe approach. Kerryne remembers, ‘Besides sourcing from local suppliers, we looked for other product packing companies to pass on our overflow work. We were so excited when we found a company that employs people with disabilities, because we believed it would give their staff the opportunity to be economically active, and to have dignity. When we asked a few questions about their cost structure, we realised they were paying their staff way below the minimum wage. The company had concocted a system where they qualified for government subsidies, as well as earning from market-related pricing, but without passing on the financial benefits to their staff.’ In the end, eyeSlices® didn’t do business with them.

Social justice impacts the individual

Kerryne comments, ‘We are confronted with social justice issues and poverty on such a massive scale in South Africa, that we feel we have to make a difference on a massive scale. It can sometimes feel like we’re trying to fill up an abyss. But whatever efforts we make in engaging redemptively in society, makes a difference.’

She smiles, ‘One of our staff members started working for us about 9 years ago. She was completely unskilled, and had missing front teeth. Even though she rose through the ranks of the company she was always self-conscious and stayed in the background. We realised that she could never afford the dentistry, so we paid to have her teeth fixed. It created an astounding turnaround in her life – she became confident and outgoing, and is now one of our factory supervisors.’

Kerryne encourages other Christians in business to keep engaging the issue of social justice. ‘Sometimes we get tired or disappointed, sometimes we fail to help when we had the means to do so. But it’s never too late to try again. God wants to guide you – in the season of your business, with the resources you have, in the changes you need to make, where you need to step out in faith. Don’t look at what other people are doing – focus on your own journey, on what God is saying to you, and walk that out in obedience.’

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