Definition of slavery:
A person being held against their will and forced to do labor under threat of violence
or some other form of abuse like denial of food.
The person has no rights and is considered property.
We tend to think that slavery is something of the past, from the heyday of European colonialism, a dark period in the history of the U.S.
In fact slavery has always existed and still exists worldwide today and on a very large scale; hidden in plain sight.
Slavery, not to be confused with exploitation, which is even way more common, concerns
over 40 million people today, according to estimations by organizations such as Amnesty International. About 70 % of them are women, 25 % children.
It’s present in the supply chains of almost all goods produced, from mining to the agricultural
industries and factories and there where services are provided by ‘unskilled’ workers such as sex workers or domestic servants.
Most common is ‘bonded labor’: poor people desperately looking for work borrow money to pay traffickers for a promised job abroad. Once at their destination their passports are taken away and circumstances are completely different than promised. They find themselves trapped and they cannot leave until they pay off the debts they owe to their traffickers. But often it’s hard to pay of the debts, as they can be charged for ‘costs’ for food and shelter, bigger amounts than their salary. That way, the debt can even grow.
Other forms of slavery are forced marriages, child soldiers or descent-based slavery, where people are born into slavery because of their parents debts, or their class or caste.
It’s present everywhere where poverty makes people vulnerable to be trapped in slavery or slavery-like conditions,
in a world economy depending on cheap labour and craving for profit.
In the days of institutionalized slavery, a slave was seen (and kept) a bit like we see cattle today;
good slaves were expensive but worth the investment.
Today, you can buy a slave for a few hundred dollars on the slave markets in Libya, or have them for free; people are just abducted from the streets
or stolen out of their villages, children given away by their parents that can’t provide for them or pay for their marriage dowry.
As consumers, we are on the other end of these supply chains; since we often don’t
know where the things we buy come from, we all buy goods that are at least partially produced by slaves.
The cobalt in our smartphones, computers and cars is most likely extracted from the Congolese mines by children under horrible conditions.
In Xi-an, the Chinese government detains 1,8 million Uyghur people in slavery-like conditions; they are set to work in on the cotton fields where 20 % of all the cotton in the world comes from, or in the many factories that big brands such as Nike, Zara, Adidas, Ikea, H&M, Volkswagen and many others have in the Xinjiang region to take advantage of the low costs for labor.
Off course the profit they make by doing so doesn’t make your clothes any cheaper but goes to the brands and their shareholders.
But as consumers we also have the power to demand from the brands and suppliers a
responsible business conduct and transparency.
By being aware of the situation and favoring responsible produced goods over others when possible, brands will have to change their conduct if they want to sell their products.
Let’s end these barbaric practices and take ourselves out of the dark ages where slavery is still the fundament of our economy, our society.