How many slaves have you employed today? No matter what you might think, it’s unlikely the answer is zero. While many of us might do our best to buy local, fair trade items, it’s simply not enough to ensure a truly free economy.
Enter the website slaveryfootprint.org. They ask a very simple, but incredibly loaded question: how many slaves work for you? Like many, I was apprehensive about taking this test because the results would put me in touch with a reality I’d rather not think about. Even living in a fairly modest home in sub-Saharan Africa, I wondered, how many slaves have played a part in my everyday life?
As you take this interactive quiz, you go through the basics. Where do you live? What’s your age? Are you male or female and do you have any children? As you do so, facts about slavery greet you in the sidebar. As I plugged in my general diet, food items I never considered might be touched by slavery came to light: “Bonded labor is used for much of Southeast Asia’s shrimping industry, which supplies more shrimp to the U.S. than any other country. Laborers work up to 20-hour days to peel 40 pounds of shrimp. Those who attempt to escape are under constant threat of violence or sexual assault.”
I typed in the gadgets I use, the clothes in my closet and the rooms in my house. In the end, it turned out that 34 slaves worked for me. To come up with the number, the website behind it, Made in a Free World, used five reports on slavery and labor created by the Department of State, Labor, Transparency International and Freedom House. Statistics from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were also used.
The algorithm they employed is displayed on the website. While it is not based on specific brands or designers, and one could argue that the use of such fair trade might mitigate slavery, it’s also important to note how often we are duped by such claims. Trader Joe’s, often heralded by folks as a humane and ethical commercial chain, has been accused of selling tomatoes picked by slave labor. Whole Foods has also been criticized for carrying chocolate tied to slave labor in their stores.
It is nearly impossible to compile an average collection of human goods that are not somehow involved in the slave trade. So what does that mean for us? Does that mean that we simply give up? Or should we begin demanding that companies employ transparent methods regarding how they acquire their goods?
Made in a Free World offers business tools for company owners to help improve the quality of the goods they currently offer. This free assessment includes looking at vendor agreements, the code of conduct, engagement pathways and a review of general policy. Businesses are also welcome to sign up for a free launch pack, with an invitation to join MIAFW if their products become slavery free. They also offer a smartphone app which allows consumers to check if products are slavery-free. And if they are not, it links them up with a direct line to the company to demand they source free trade items.
It is said there are more slaves working today than during the 1800s. Many of life’s everyday slaves simply slip below our radar. They are in Ghana, harvesting chocolate for consumers around the globe. They are in mica factories in India, generating the sparkles that so many of us wear in our makeup. And this is not to say that we are all slavers, or somehow guilty of enslaving millions.
What it is saying is that now that you know, it’s time to ensure that your every day choices, your dollar-vote, sends a message. To invest in companies that refuse to use slave labor, and pressure those who do, to stop. It is something every single citizen can take part in, without disrupting most of their daily life. So what are you waiting for? Take the test. How many slaves worked for you today?