Today’s post is going to be a little bit different, I have decided to start a series on how we as consumers can be more socially responsible with our purchases and use our money in a way that makes the world a better place. A consumer’s most powerful tool for influencing the world is his or her money. How and where we spend our hard earned dollars can have a bigger impact than we know, and many people don’t know how often their dollars are doing more harm than good by enslaving other human beings. There are currently 40 million slaves in the world. That is more than at any other time in human history. They are in every industry, some more than others and many times consumers have no idea that their products were made by slaves, or someone equally trapped and mistreated in their job. On the first Saturday of each month, I will be highlighting a company that provides good quality and socially responsible products that do not employ slaves and are working to empower vulnerable people throughout the world, or I will be sharing information about popular brands and how they are responding, or not responding to the issue of slavery in the production of their own products. First, I want to give you an overview of how consumer culture is supporting modern-day slavery and what you can do about it.
Human trafficking is defined by the UN as an “act of recruitment, movement, harboring, or receipt of a person, by means of force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of exploitation.” The Slavery convention of 1926 loosely defined slavery as “the status of condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.” The International Labor Organization, during their 1930 convention defined forced labor as “work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.” Slavery in the context in which most people think is known as chattel slavery. It is a situation in which every right and freedom of a person is governed by someone else, his right to choose his work and be paid for it, her right to decide where to live and to leave if she wishes, his right to marry and have children. All of these things are in the power of an owner who is also authorized to sell him or her. Modern-day slavery takes many more forms. It includes chattel slavery, as well as debt bondage, and any forced labor that includes some part of chattel slavery.
Debt bondage exists all over the world, in South/Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Debtors are usually illiterate and hold a lower social status and their creditors are generally wealthy and educated which makes it easier for debtors to be taken advantage of. Many people are entrapped in debt bondage when they take out a loan for a wedding, funeral, or just to feed their family in a time of crisis and are unable to pay it back. In some countries, the interest charged makes the debt exponentially higher. In other countries the creditors keep their debtors enslaved by paying them too little for their work and then offering more loans so the debtor’s family can survive. Brazil is a country where debt bondage is extremely common. Many people are employed in this way on ranches and farms that produce rubber, sugar, chocolate, and coffee. All of these are products that people in developed countries make use of, often in ignorance of their source. Many popular companies unscrupulously use slave-produced materials in their products; others simply don’t trace their ingredients and materials to their source. You don’t have to swear off coffee or chocolate, there are many companies that make products with ethically grown and harvested ingredients.The fair trade label is the easiest way to recognize them but don’t just stop there, read the packages and you’ll find more ethical chocolate and coffee than you think.
While slavery and forced labor according to their definitions earlier in this post are not widely present, the textile industry is full of workers who are trapped in their jobs. Workers fill sweatshops, work long hours, and are paid so little that they can’t save the money to relocate and find other jobs. Vietnam, Indonesia, Central America, and other impoverished areas are full of sweatshops producing clothing, shoes, and accessories for popular American brands. Many of these people are trafficked from other countries after being promised well-paid jobs that will help them support their families. They arrive to find that their immigration papers are being withheld by their employers and their only option for work is hazardous, low paid labor in sweatshops. Millions of people in America and Europe buy clothing and other merchandise form popular clothing brands and are totally ignorant of the conditions in which the people live who made their clothing. There are many companies that are started with the purpose of ensuring a fair wage and safe working conditions for their employees and many popular brands are becoming more aware of the issues related to production in other countries. It doesn’t take much searching on a website to find out their basic policies and if you can’t find something out email the company and ask them.
I am excited to explore this and share what I find with you. I hope you will come along for the ride.
Have a great day!
I found my sources of JSTOR and my information is from “Exploitation Creep and the Unmaking of Human Trafficking Law” by Janie A. Chuang, published in The American Journal of International Law volume 108, issue 4 in 2014, and “Contemporary Forms of Slavery” by Suzanne Miers published in the Canadian Journal of African Studies/Revue Candienne de Etudes Africaines volume 34 issue 3 in 2000.