It may come as a surprise to discover the items that are here on this list – things that feature regularly in our everyday life. These products are sometimes produced under terrible, slave-like conditions, and sadly it is not unusual for children to be on the workforce. Conditions for these workers are shocking, with beatings and abuse being a norm.
While we hear of campaigners sharing the sometimes horrifying treatment of animals in an attempt to cause a movement against animal products, we somehow overlook the plight of our fellow humans in our hunger for cheap goods.
Here, President Barack Obama describes how slavery works in the modern world. “It’s the migrant worker unable to pay off his debt (mainly for transport and clandestine entry) to his trafficker. The man, lured here with the promise of a job, his documents then taken, and forced to work endless hours in a kitchen. The teenage girl beaten, forced to walk the street.”
The US Department of State outlines their understanding of the term ‘human trafficking’.
Human trafficking appears in many guises. It might take the form of compelled commercial sexual exploitation, the prostitution of minors, debt bondage, or forced labor. The United States government, and increasingly, the international community, view “trafficking in persons” as the term through which all forms of modern slavery are criminalised.
Chocolate is consumed in enormous quantities around the world, and demand continues to grow. The supply is going to struggle to keep up in coming years, when the demand is expected to increase by a further 30%.
The producers of cacao are using mostly outdated farming methods and they tend to make pitiful profits on their crop.
Further moral issues come into the spotlight when we look at the conditions of the workers who harvest the cacao crop. Most suppliers buy from the Ivory Coast, and the harvesting here is done by slave labourers, often children younger than 10, who have been taken from poorer countries.
The children are either abducted or sold by their families for as little as $30. They are forced to carry enormous sacks that cause physical harm to their little bodies.
Smartphones are not free from this list. There is a notorious factory in China by the name of Foxconn which produces electronic equipment for a number of American companies, including Apple. It is known for a number of atrocious working violations, including forcing people to work excessively long hours (100 hours per week is normal), without paying what they owe, in terribly uncomfortable and cramped conditions, with no seating provided. Public humiliation is a common tool used by the company to discipline workers.
Despite pressure to improve the situation the factory is still little more than a slave shop, with many workers committing suicide. Foxconn made many of their workers sign disclaimers to prevent families from suing the company if they committed suicide as a result of the terrible conditions.
While the majority of human trafficking is into sexual slavery, there is another side to it. People do not often realise that some pornographic films and pictures may include women who have been sold into slavery. This is especially true with material using women from the Soviet Union, as well as Thai, Filipina, Colombian, Dominican and Nigerian women.
It is virtually impossible to identify how many pornographic films use sex slaves.
The US Department of State explains how people come to be trafficked.
People fall victim to trafficking for many reasons. Some may simply be seeking a better life, a promising job, or even an adventure. Others may be poverty-stricken and forced to migrate for work, or they may be marginalized by their society. These vulnerabilities do not mean that those who are victimized are dependent on someone else to empower them. It often means that they had the courage to pursue an opportunity that they believed would change their lives and support their families. Traffickers see and understand this reality, and through imbalances in power and information—and a willingness to use coercion and violence—they take advantage of their victims’ hope for a better future.
Palm oil is used in many forms across the world. It is a cheap cooking oil and is also an ingredient in many cosmetics and even fuel. While there are environmental issues with using this product, there are also huge moral concerns. The industry relies heavily on slave labour and human exploitation. Much of the production takes place in Indonesia, through a Malaysian company, Kuala Lumpar Kepong, which runs more than 70 plantations there.
Men are contracted to work under false pretences. They are forced to sign contracts which last for years, mean they are required to move far from their homes. They are beaten if they try to escape, despite never being paid as they were promised.
KLK maintains that they are not at fault, because their contractors are in charge of the workers.
Sweatshops are often the source of cheap clothes that have become so popular in the Western World. Bangladesh is home to the majority of such sweatshops, and despite government intervention and efforts on the part of retailers, there does not seem to be any improvement in sight. Sadly, child labour is also a normal part of these factories.
Some companies have been caught out trying to sneak around the moral issues by organising front houses which have slightly better standards, while secretly using sweatshops for the majority of their work. It shields them from having to answer difficult questions, while keeping their profit margins as high as possible.
The terrible cramped conditions have proved fatal when accidents happen, such as fires and building collapse. In one instance management took the decision to lock employees inside during a fire, in order to prevent footage of too many people leaving the building from being seen. Walmart is one particular company that is known to use Bangladeshi sweatshops to produce their clothes.
It can be confusing to understand the terms used to describe conditions that children are kept in. Anti slavery.org explains the difference between child work, child labour and child trafficking here.
The terms around exploitation of children can be quite confusing so here is a short explanation:
Some types of work make useful, positive contributions to a child’s development. Work can help children learn and develop particular skills that will benefit them and the rest of society. Often, work is a vital source of income that enables children to help sustain their families.
According to the ILO, however, there are over 200 million child labourers around the world. Child labour is not slavery, but nevertheless hinders children’s education, development and future livelihoods. For example, children who are working below the legal minimum age for employment.
Worst forms of child labour
Of the children in child labour, some 115 million are engaged in “hazardous work,” otherwise known as the worst forms of child labour (ILO, 2010). This is work that irreversibly threatens children’s health and development, through, for example, exposure to dangerous machinery or toxic substances, and may even endanger their lives. The worst forms of child labour also include the 8.4 million children in slavery and slavery-like practices, who are also subject to exploitation by others, and are the priority for us all to address.
Trafficking involves transporting people away from the communities in which they live, by the threat or use of violence, deception, or coercion so they can be exploited for sex or labour. When children are trafficked, no violence, deception or coercion needs to be involved, it is merely the act of transporting them into exploitative work which constitutes trafficking. The vulnerability of these children is very serious, often they do not have contact with their families and are at the mercy of their employers.
While people fight to legalise cannabis for many reasons, it is not usually known that there may be a hidden victim behind the smoke. Particularly for cannabis users in the UK the cannabis trade is often supported by the slave labour of many Vietnamese children.
Often the traffickers persuade parents to let their children be taken to the UK to improve their prospects. The child is taken with a loan agreement, that they will owe the trafficker a specific amount of money to pay for the opportunity of leaving their poverty. The scam is that they are never able to pay the amount off, and remain trapped by the person who they owe. To compound matters, the children are often told that their families back home will be hurt if they do not comply to the demands of their ‘owners’.
Often the trafficked children are too fearful to turn to authorities for help, since they have entered the UK illegally. To make things worse, the UK police tend to treat the children as criminals rather than victims.
The Guardian uncovered an underbelly of slavery in the global shrimp industry. One particular Thai based prawn farmer, CP foods uses dealers who use slave labour on their fishing boats. At the top of the chain are large well known companies, including Walmart, Tesco and Costo. The trail is complex and that makes it easy to avert blame.
The smaller dealers pick up reject fish from the ocean, to turn into meal, which they sell to the large companies. They are required to gather huge quantities to meet margins, and they employ slaves to do that. The slaves are workers employed through brokers and sold to fish-meal dealers, where they are often forced to live on the boats, sometimes chained together.
The Thai government is aware of the issues, but has not stepped so far in any serious way – some think this is for economic reasons.
Counterfeit handbag production is big business – which is well known for using slave labour – the profits of which are frequently used to support criminal activity.
The following is a passage from Dana Thomas book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster puts the industry into a terrible spotlight. “‘I remember walking into an assembly plant in Thailand a couple of years ago and seeing six or seven little children, all under 10 years old, sitting on the floor assembling counterfeit leather handbags,’ an investigator told me… ‘The owners had broken the children’s legs and tied the lower leg to the thigh so the bones wouldn’t mend. [They] did it because the children said they wanted to go outside and play.’”
There is something that you can do if you spot someone selling counterfeits. You can contact the STOP! Hotline (1-866-999-HALT; stopfakes.gov). If you see suspicious activity such as a clandestine workshop or smuggling, call U.S. Customs and Border Protection (1-800-BE-ALERT).
You can also support the Teacher of Ten Thousand Generations Foundation, which rescues child labourers from counterfeit factories in China and puts them in schools (confuciusfoundation.org).
You can help to put a stop to slavery by getting educated on the way that items that you purchase are made. You can also follow and support organisations such as STOP THE TRAFFIK.
Stop the traffick exists to end the buying and selling of people. We are a global movement of activists from all sectors of society who passionately give our time and energy, uniting to build resilient communities and disrupt and prevent human trafficking and its harm and abuse to human beings. We campaign for a traffik-free world!
We seek to prevent trafficking by engaging in:
• Community Transformation
We shine a light on the crime of human trafficking. We equip people to understand what trafficking is, how it affects them and what they can do about it. We empower individuals to take action to prevent trafficking in their communities. We raise awareness to ensure that vulnerable people are protected against the abusive and deceptive behaviour of traffickers.
• Global Campaigning
We inform consumers about how trafficking impacts the supply chains of businesses world-wide. We equip and empower consumers to change their buying habits, campaign for change. We advocate for business to take action to prevent the harm and abuse associated with human trafficking.
• Gathering and Sharing Knowledge
We gather and analyse information from individuals and stakeholders around the world on how and where trafficking is taking place. We share this knowledge generously in order to enable effective prevention of human trafficking.
The first step in changing this situation is raising awareness, only then can we put pressure on companies to change the way their products are manufactured from grass roots level.
What are your thoughts? Do you know of any other morally dubious manufacturing processes? We would love to hear from you.
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