Could slave labour have made your Valentine’s Day gift asks Andrew Bevan
More than 25 million people are trapped and exploited in forced labour slavery around the world. Many are enduring brutal violence and abuse to produce things like jewellery, clothing, chocolate, mobile phones, coffee and makeup.
The Ethical Trading Initiative (2015) reports that “71 per cent of (UK) companies believe there is a likelihood of modern slavery occurring at some stage in their supply chains”.
That should shock us all. It’s driven me to learn more and find out what consumer actions I can take to stop it.
The cocoa industry, for example, is notorious for its use of exploitative child labour. Work in cocoa agriculture is characterised by long hours in the sun performing physically demanding work, the use of hazardous cutting tools and pesticides, and carrying back-breaking loads.
Within the mining industry there are entire families who have been trapped in slavery for generations. Gold and diamond mining falls under some of the worst forms of child labour, meaning some jewellery in our shops could have been produced by slave labour.
Even roses – the classic gift that says ‘I love you’ – can be harvested by people suffering from exploitation or slavery.
Today, as people give their loved one’s bouquets, were the roses in them picked by a child like Mallesh? Local authorities and International Justice Mission (IJM) rescued Mallesh and three other young boys from slave labour on a rose farm in South Asia. The boys, as young as eight, were forced to work more than 12 hours a day and were refused medical treatment. They relentlessly picked roses in blistering heat, thorns cutting into their bare hands. After the children were rescued, they told the local authorities that whenever they made mistakes they were beaten with sticks.
Slavery in supply chains has flourished in part because consumers like us don’t know it’s happening. The disturbing reality is that slavery still exists and touches us every day – including in Valentine’s gifts. The good news is that there is hope.
Whilst slavery is bigger than it’s ever been, it’s also more stoppable than it’s ever been – and we can be part of the solution. Consumers have power – we’ve seen that through the campaign against single use plastic. Supermarkets and brands are paying attention. Why? Because consumers are demanding action.
We will see slavery end much faster when consumers raise their voices and tell brands they care who made the products we buy. When enough people show that they care – by raising awareness, by writing to brands to ask how they’re tackling slavery and by championing brands taking active steps to stop exploitation – we will see the tide turn.
At IJM, we know that stopping slavery is not simple, but we also know that it is possible. We’ve seen slavery decrease by up to 86 per cent in places where we have worked.We’ve seen corporates who were part of the problem work with us to become part of the solution. Increasing numbers of brands are starting to think about how they can be more ethical and prevent exploitation in their supply chains – so let’s encourage more to act. If you – like me – don’t want to buy products produced by people in slavery, a great first step is to take part in IJM’s #SlaveFreeLent 40-day journey towards slave-free living. IJM will give you the information you need to understand slavery in supply chains, as well as tips on how to make good consumer choices and take small, everyday actions against slavery.
I believe in a future where slavery does not exist – when we can buy Valentine’s roses, chocolate or jewellery without fear that they could be the product of exploitation. Will you be part of ending slavery in our lifetime? IJM’s #SlaveFreeLent 40-day challenge begins on 26 February. To sign up, visit www.ijmuk.org/slavefreelent
Andrew Bevan, Scotland director at IJM UK.