Slave labour

Posted: November 11, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I’ll admit that it came as a bit of a shock to learn that 79 slaves are apparently working on my behalf around the world.

That’s the number that – a website that tracks the forced and unpaid labour that goes into producing the things we take for granted – conservatively estimates have toiled to produce the raw materials used to make my clothes and food to my car, bike and the iPad I’m writing this on.

Slaveryfootprint uses a general survey to chart the type and quantity of products you use and the type of food you eat and produces results based on the number of exploited workers it knows are used to produce those type of goods. Most of the slavery occurs way down the supply chain in the mines, fields and factories that produce or process the raw materials that go into making your jeans, morning latte or your smartphone.

Most of my “slaves” appear to be in China as clothing and gadgets figure more prominently in my results. Many of China’s 150 million migrant workers toil illegally in mines and kilns producing everything from silicon, silk and silver to pearls, pig iron and polyester.

Slaveryfootprint claims that our society is responsible for enslaving more people than at anytime in history. It’s goal is not necessarily to make you feel guilty or stop buying brands – although you will probably be shocked when you count up how many pairs of jeans and how many phones and music players there are in your house – but to raise awareness and put pressure on multinational corporations to review their supply chains.

Users are encouraged to send emails to businesses, post Facebook and Twitter updates that earn them brownie points towards offsetting their slavery footprint, and donate (the money goes to charities working to abolish slavery).

But the site raises more serious questions about our society and our willingness to do something about this issue.

We all want the latest gadgets and fashions and good food – and as cheaply as possible. We have long become a disposable society, demanding instant gratification as we bin our year old smartphones for the latest model as product cycles get ever shorter. Few products are built to last anymore and global markets have driven prices so low that there is no incentive to repair and reuse – we just buy a new one.

All of this creates greater demand for raw materials to be produced as cheaply as possible. Many companies simply don’t know where all of those materials come from – and may not care. That clearly needs to change.

We can do our bit by upgrading our devices every 3 years instead of every 12 months and passing them on instead of throwing away. Or by being prepared to pay more realistic prices for goods if that extra money can help provide even a minimum wage for forced labourers.

The fair trade, green and organic food movements have already greatly influenced consumer awareness of the impact our lifestyle choices can have on the environment and other cultures.

Being aware of the impression left by your slavery footprint may be the most important of all.

  1. […] Breezeblog links to “a website that tracks the forced and unpaid labour that goes into producing the things we take for granted” and makes the point that “being aware of the impression left by your slavery footprint may be the most important of all”, while Caribbean Book Blog notes that “[those] charged with erecting a permanent monument at the United Nations to honour the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade have launched an international competition for the design of the structure.” Tweet […]

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