Andrew Bevan: You, the consumer, are key in the fight to end slavery and convict criminals

Slavery in a garment factory
Slavery in a garment factory
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Do you sip coffee while you read the news on your smartphone? Put on lipstick during your commute?

We all have morning routines – but the hidden reality behind them is that, before 9am, every one of us has likely used a product that could have been made by someone in slavery.

Andrew Bevan, Scotland Director at IJM UK

Andrew Bevan, Scotland Director at IJM UK

There are over 40 million people in slavery today – that’s more than in the entire 200 years of the transatlantic slave trade put together.

Human trafficking is one of the top three most lucrative criminal businesses worldwide, generating over $150 billion each year.

And all of us are funding it. Indirectly but inevitably.

We may not be buying directly from slave-owners themselves, but slavery is hidden in the supply chains of hundreds of the products we use every day. You might not know it, but everything from the shirt you’re wearing to roses, make-up, smartphones, prawns, rice, chocolate, and jewellery can have slavery in the supply chain.

The Ethical Trading Initiative reports that “71 per cent of [UK] companies believe there is a likelihood of modern slavery occurring at some stage in their supply chains”.

Take a cotton shirt, for example. The brand selling this shirt may have checked to ensure that the factories sewing the garment are paying fair wages. But the cotton fabric is likely to be sourced elsewhere. It is grown, spun, knitted or woven, and dyed – each in different places and by different people. Every stage in the process presents an opportunity for hidden exploitation.

International Justice Mission (IJM) is the largest anti-slavery organisation in the world. We witness slavery’s brutal impact first-hand. Our team of investigators, lawyers, and social workers assist police around the world to find and free people in slavery – and then prosecute traffickers to stop slavery at source.

Just before Christmas, 52 women, men and children were rescued from slavery in an urgent operation by police in partnership with IJM. They had endured unspeakable violence for years on a ginger farm in South Asia – 17-hour work days, confinement, beatings with horse whips, and widespread sexual abuse. The children, all under 10, were locked up in a shed whilst their parents were forced to work.

Five suspects were arrested and charged.

In this case, IJM worked with police to rescue the families and arrest the perpetrators. The people buying the ginger likely had no idea that it had been grown by people in slavery.

This is a familiar pattern. From the cobalt used to make our smartphone batteries to the beans ground into our morning coffee.

The issue may seem overwhelming – but as a consumer, you are powerful.

Slavery in supply chains has flourished because consumers don’t know it’s happening. Corporates struggle to have full sight of supply chains and in the face of complex, organised crime, it’s a challenge for justice systems in source countries to deal with the problem.

IJM has found that slavery has decreased by up to 86 per cent in places where we’ve partnered with police and governments to find where slavery is happening, rescue survivors, and convict offenders.

So how do we all become part of the change we need to see? What can you do as a consumer?

The most effective way to end slavery is to stop it at source – make it too risky for slave-owners to operate because they know they’ll get caught. By supporting organisations like IJM who are working on the ground to stop slavery, rescue victims and convict slave-owners, you can be part of ending slavery, for good.

Plus, when you’re shopping, vote with your wallets by championing ethical brands. Look for brands that are transparent about their supply chains and taking active steps to help stop slavery and exploitation.

You can also challenge the brands that you love. From the revolution in plastic, to the growth of Fairtrade, consumers’ power works. Raise your voice – email, tweet, or write to brands and ask them where they make their clothes, products or how they source their food – and what steps they’re taking to avoid slavery.

The more brands that know their customers care, the faster brands will take action and work with governments and police to help stop slavery in their supply chains.

When consumers, corporates and global governments unite to say no to slavery, it will end.

Slavery might be normal in everyday products now – but it doesn’t have to be forever. Together, we can make slave-free normal. We’d love you to join the fight.

For more information about IJM and ways that you can combat slavery, visit www.ijmuk.org/slavefree

Andrew Bevan, Scotland Director at IJM UK