You may already know that over 40 million people in the world today are trapped in modern slavery — and that 1 in 4 is estimated to be a child.
But what you may not know is that many of the products we use every day — from our smartphones and clothes to sugar, coffee, chocolate, and fish — are at high risk of having slavery and exploitation in their supply chains, including the worst forms of child labor.
According to International Justice Mission’s frontline staff, this is a problem that they see the human cost of firsthand.
Just one example is Chithra, who, at the age of two, became trapped with her family in bonded labor slavery at a sugarcane farm in South Asia. For the next 20 years, she experienced daily violence, harassment, and deprivation, even losing her first unborn baby as she was forced to work.
Chithra was only two years old when she was enslaved to a life of daily violence and deprivation at a farm—today she and her family are free.— IJM Canada (@IJMCanada) December 23, 2019
Read her story https://t.co/14wBx77MgG#untilallarefreepic.twitter.com/6u13gMKRZG
Chithra has now been brought to safety by police working in partnership with the Released Bonded Laborers’ Association (RBLA) — a group of bonded labor survivors trained by IJM who are now combating bonded labor in their communities. On being free from exploitation, Chithra said she felt “relieved, overjoyed, and determined. It was too emotional for me to describe in words.”
It’s hard to reconcile the thought that the products we use every day could have been created on the back of forced labor: of long hours, sleep deprivation, the withholding of food, education, medicine, and freedom from children, women, and men around the world.
According to Ethical Trading Initiative, 77% of UK businesses believe there is a likelihood of slavery in their supply chains. The good news is that we can catalyze action — but we need to act fast.
The problem of slavery in supply chains is set to get worse unless urgent action is taken: an estimated 150 million people were pushed into extreme poverty in 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis, which means many more people are now vulnerable to traffickers and other forms of labor exploitation.
While the ultimate responsibility for action remains with governments and law enforcement to enforce anti-slavery and anti-exploitation laws, hold traffickers accountable, and ensure worker protection, our actions as consumers can also impact the lives of workers all over the world.
We can use our voices and our purchasing power to encourage businesses to actively monitor their supply chains and proactively ensure that all workers engaged in their supply chains are treated with dignity — we can also ask them to work with source governments to reduce trafficking. As consumers we can be part of driving change, and how and where we choose to spend our money is a powerful tool.
In recent years, we’ve actually seen the power that consumers and citizens hold to affect powerful change — including through the example of single-use plastic.
Consumer pressure has had a considerable impact in terms of changes in corporate policy to tackle the issue of plastic pollution.
In the same way, the nature of the globalized economy means that, as consumers, we can drive action to improve working practices and conditions around the world.
So, what can we do to help?
1. Get educated.
Understanding the issue of slavery in supply chains is the first important step — and listening to the voices of survivors who speak out about their experiences. IJM has a free 6-week video course called “Make #SlaveFree Normal”, which includes interviews with survivors, activists, lawyers, and NGOs all about the issue of slavery in supply chains and what we can do about it.
2. Use your voice to create systemic change.
While the purchasing decisions of individual consumers alone aren’t enough to solve the complex issue of slavery and exploitation in supply chains, consumers do have the power to influence government and corporate policy. We can do this by advocating for greater transparency, fair pay for workers, and for laws against exploitation to be enforced.
Show the brands you love that you care about who makes your clothes, coffee, chocolate, and more. Why not ask some of your favorite brands and retailers what they’re doing to tackle labor exploitation, and how these efforts have been impacted by the pandemic? You can also check out the websites of your favorite retailers to see whether they’ve published a statement on how they’re tackling exploitation in their supply chains and, if they haven’t published anything, you can contact them directly, or consider switching to brands that are more transparent about modern slavery, and taking action to combat it.
3. Change your habits.
It can be difficult to understand exactly where the products we use come from, as often brands themselves aren’t sufficiently transparent. Look out for brands that are actively taking steps to avoid exploitation and produce products ethically. Read the modern slavery statements of big brands, check out resources like Ethical Consumer and the GoodOnYou app, or sign up to IJM’s “Make #SlaveFree Normal” video course, which includes information to support and educate consumers who want to make more ethical purchasing decisions.
4. Support NGOs taking action to stop slavery and exploitation at source.
By doing this, you get to be part of the long-term solution, as well as making freedom possible for people trapped in slavery right now.