Sunday, September 13, 2009

the "unjust" manager...

Robert was one of many other cocoa plantation managers in the area. High temperatures and unbearable humidity have made the Cote d'Ivoire a favorite place for cocoa trees to grow and thrive. Robert had been contracted by Nestle and was entrusted with the resources needed to plant, grow, and harvest the little beans that end up in our houses as bars of chocolaty goodness. Unlike the other managers in the area, Robert hired able working men to work his plantation and paid them a fair wage (enough to feed their families and send their children to school). Eventually Nestle starting noticing that of the many contracted plantations Robert's was running the least cost efficient. The bottom line's of the other managers were significantly reduced through exploitation of children...they could be hired for a pittance or even paid nothing at all. Nestle told Robert that he had two months to cut cost or they would cancel his contract. Robert knew the consequences of laying off the men that worked in his cocoa fields, for he himself knew the struggle of providing for a family. He had a decision to make: play by the rules of Nestle which would force him to hire and exploit children or continue on paying fair wages to able working men and lose his plantation. Robert, being the shrewd man he was, actually chose a third way. He decided not only to continue paying fair wages, but he would use his last payment from Nestle to help out his community. He had heard of a boy who had been wounded by a machete working in the fields and offered to pay for the medical bills the family could not afford. He voluntarily cleaned up a mess of cocoa husks another manager had discarded inappropriately on the land of a community down the road. He even began cutting some of the debts of employees (I mean he had nothing to lose at this point right?). During this time a reporter from the UK had been investigating the labor practices of cocoa plantations in Cote d'Ivoire and discovered the work Robert had been doing to improve and help out his community. Word quickly spread and Nestle was actually praised for the social and environmental standards that were being implemented in its cocoa plantations (funny how that works right?). The story goes Robert was later contacted by the executives of Nestle and rewarded for the way he had managed his plantation.

The parable of the "unjust" or "dishonest" manager never made much sense to me...maybe its because he wasn't unjust at all. Maybe its because he had actually acted justly or "shrewdly" as the Word says. Check it our yourself in Luke 16 and read it afresh. Maybe the message of Jesus was a bit more subversive than we thought.

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