It took a recent article by Dr. Andrew Crane, a professor at the Schulich School of Business, to put slavery in the forefront of my mind, as one of the most important issues that we need to deal with. Modern slavery. It bears little resemblance to the U.S. slave trade of the 1800s. Today’s slaves are bonded or forced laborers, child laborers, as well as those trafficked for the sex trade. They are people who live in poverty, who owe money, loaned at such high rates that their entire wage cannot even come close to paying off the loan, leading to generations of slaves and poverty so extreme that parents are willing to give their children up to go with strangers who promise an education and good jobs. These slaves endure cruel and inhumane working conditions that include abuse, threats, and unsafe practices, for no pay and with no way out. It is illegal in every country, but it is estimated that there are approximately 27 million people in slavery today.
BUT HERE’S THE MOST IMPORTANT PART: they are working, in way too many cases, to make the products that we consume. The cheap, mass-produced goods and commodities that we demand often use slave labor because it is the most ‘efficient’ economic model that can support the production of clothing, carpets, coffee and other products that we want dirt cheap, and still earn a profit for the owners. And the current neoliberal economic order, without intervention, will push this system further, under the guise of increasing competitiveness.
So what can we do? We can intervene.
1) Stay informed and pressure retailers who do not monitor their supply chain. Think twice before buying something from a dollar store. Pressure discount retailers, such as Walmart and Target and others, to scrutinize their supply chain and ensure international labor standards are met.
2) Shop at retailers who DO monitor their supply chain and know that labor standards are met. Buy Fair Trade-certified products whenever possible. Rugmark is a certification specific to the carpet industry. Look for other ethical trade initiatives for the products you buy.
3) Use your voice. Join the letter writing campaigns of organizations such as Anti-Slavery International, End Slavery Now. Change.org has several petitions that relate to slavery. You can find them by searching ‘slavery’ at www.change.org. End It Now asks you to share their #enditnow message on your social media sites.
4) Add any other ideas you have to the comment section.