In the world today there are an estimated 45 million people trapped in slavery in 167 countries. With a number that high it is unsurprising that many of the products we buy have been made, in some way, through the effort of slaves.
My own slavery footprint was calculated to be around 33, using this site, Slavery Footprint. This means that when the food I eat, clothes, cosmetics and medicines I buy and the electronics I own are taken into account 33 people involved in their making were not doing so out of their own free will.
The temptation, as always, is to assume that modern slavery exists only in other countries and is due to the failings of other cultures and communities and not our own. However, in 2014 over 2,000 people in Britain were reported to the UK Human Trafficking centre as potential victims of slavery, over 100 of whom were born in Britain. In the UK the most prominent form of modern slavery is sexual exploitation, this is true of a lot of EU countries and in fact a high number of sex trafficking victims in the UK are originally from other European countries, generally those that were part of the Soviet block. In Moldova for example, 1% of its entire population is or has been a victim of sex trafficking.
Sex trafficking certainly gets the most coverage in terms of types of slave labour, however just as it was when slavery was legal, the majority of those enslaved are enslaved for labour, 67.9% in fact. These people are forced to work in areas such as agriculture, domestic servitude, construction and of course manufacturing.
Slave labour pays an integral part in the mining and processing of a great deal of raw materials such as Iron, Copper, Coal and Gold. A lot of these then go into products, such as smartphones, which we buy, and which, unless our approach to manufacture changes, people like me will design.
It is not only the raw materials that reach us having passed through the hands of slaves, a number of the products themselves have been manufactured, assembled and packaged by slaves. In China, the country from which the majority of cheap products we buy have come from, slavery has been found to play a part in the manufacture of electronics, toys, shoes and christmas decorations.
As I’ve written in a previous blog the approach of our society towards manufactured goods contributes massively to the growth of modern slavery. The competition for lower prices and faster turn arounds cause manufacturers to cut costs, sometimes through paying their employees less, sometimes paying them nothing or through paying less for their raw materials which in turn forces those suppliers to make a similar choice. However, when supplying a raw material there are fewer ways to cut your cost. Unfortunately, the easiest way is generally to cut your labour cost or scrap it all together.
The photo is courtesy of Just Love, Glasgow, I recommend giving their blog a wee read if you have the time- #shamelessplug