Thursday, May 2, 2013

it's not fair.

I’m a fairly average consumer.  I rent a two-bedroom apartment.  I get my groceries from the shop down the street.  I buy a few clothes when I need them (or the “shopping urge” hits, which is actually seldom).  I do have a rather large sewing addiction, which means boo-coos of fabric.  But other than that, I would say my lifestyle is moderate.  I’m not overly-conscious, but I’m not extravagant either, so I figure it all balances out somewhere in the middle.

Then I took this survey and found out I have 34 slaves working for me.  Suddenly, my fairly moderate lifestyle doesn’t seem very “fair.”  And honestly, that number is probably on the low end of reality, especially when I start including all the things the survey didn’t ask about (like the boo-coos of fabric I’ve got stashed away).

The numbers get worse.  There are nearly 30 MILLION people trapped in modern day slavery.  Forced labor and human trafficking is a $32 BILLION a year industry.  It’s happening on every continent.  It’s embedded into the production of goods from every corner of the market.  The food we eat.  The clothes we buy.  The electronics we love.  The sports we play.  The beauty products we use.  Almost everything is influenced by slave labor at some point.

The problem comes from a lack of transparency in the supply chain, and it appears that most companies have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to the manufacturing processes their products go through.  Let’s use that fabric I love so much as an example.  I buy it from a retailer, who gets it from a manufacturer, who prints their designs on plain cotton fabric from a factory in China or India, who gets their cotton from fields in Uzbekistan, one of the largest cotton exporters in the world.  That’s all sounds fine and dandy, until learning that over 2 million children in Uzbekistan are forced to pick cotton to meet the government-imposed production quotas.  Any one of those children could be counted in the 34 slaves that are working for me.  

Of course, we would all agree that this is unacceptable.   But am I being too harsh to just assume that my fabric is supplied through forced labor?  And if it is, who’s to blame?  Surely a company wouldn’t willing source unethical product, right?  So I sent several US-based manufacturing companies an email asking what they had to say about their own supply chains.  Only one company responded.  All they could tell me was that their fabric comes from China.  Things aren’t looking good.

So what can we do?  Organizations like Made in a Free World, Not for Sale, and End it Movement are trying to raise awareness of modern day slavery.  But awareness alone doesn’t implement change.  There must be a call to action.  A demand for products manufactured through fair labor practices.  As consumers, we can make our voice heard.  Supporting companies that are accountable to ethical manufacturing can begin to reform the marketplace.   We can join Made in a Free World in saying "Let’s get slavery out of our system!"

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