April 17, 2015

It’s 2015 & there are ~70 Slaves Working for Me.


I have thought a lot about my various footprints; carbon, ecological, environmental, and as a proud Californian I constantly reevaluate my water footprint.

Up until recently, the one footprint I realized I was ignoring was a glaring emblem of my Western privilege: I was naive about what modern slavery looked like and did not yet know we all even had a slavery footprint.

Thanks to SlaveryFootprint‘s online quiz, I found out that I unknowingly (and not insignificantly) contribute to modern slavery.

Apparently 70 slaves work for me. 70! I fancied myself a conscious consumer, but my iPhone, iPod and iEverything addiction coupled with living in my home, buying cosmetics and wearing the occasional commercial brand made my number skyrocket.

More than 20 million people are victims of slavery throughout the world and the equivalent of $150 billion of profits are generated on the back of these workers annually.

When it comes to modern slavery, I eat it, I drive it, I text on it and I wear it.  You probably do, too. And if you don’t, you’re the exception and I commend you.

After somewhat recovering from the shock of my ’70’,  I endeavored to do a mindful spring-cleaning to reduce my slavery footprint as much as possible.

Did I know that the production of most cosmetics directly supports modern slavery practices in India? Nope.

60% of the world’s mica comes from India where children are forced to work in illegal mines in dangerous conditions. Time to do an anti-slavery cleaning on my makeup bag. I don’t know about you but I think I’ll start investing in the healthy glow of not supporting a slave trade.

Ok, I am on a roll. What other changes can I make to get that number way down?

We will only truly be free when those in bondage are finally free.” ~ Archbishop Desmond Tutu

In Ghana, 650,000 people work as slaves in the fish industry and these fish often end up in European and American markets. In Indonesia, men are imprisoned and only allowed a few bites of rice a day, forced to harvest the stuff of their small meals for bigger markets.

As a result of international pressure, on April 9 2015, 500 of the fish industry slaves in Ghana have been freed, but the farm still exists and the fish are still on the market. Ingesting fish that are the result of slave labor? No thanks. Although I make every attempt at buying local and organic, I am going to be more cognizant of all my buying practices and write to my fish oil supplement makers to expose their sourcing practices.

The letters don’t stop there, though. I’ve even sent some to my favorite clothing manufactures: J Crew and H & M. Both have supported cotton supply chains that exploit child and forced labor in Uzbekistan. I have since investigated other stores that don’t support this deplorable practice.

Moving on to the Big Daddy of modern slavery: my over-reliance on technology and support of Apple iEverything.

Congolese children mined the raw materials for my phone and Chinese slave labor manufactured all of my iProducts. This is the toughie, but even though I’ve been eyeing a phone upgrade, an Apple watch and a new fancy gold computer, these purchases have been put on hold. My electronics function and until they stop functioning I will keep researching more ethical electronics options.

This spring I am not just cleaning my closets, flipping my mattress and redoing my office. With each new purchase, I am going to choose not to support the insidious, modern day slave trade. I am going to do my due diligence to make more informed choices about which products I use to make my skin glow, nourish my body and keep me connected to the technological world thereby rewarding companies who treat people like people as opposed to commodities.

I am deeply committed to reducing my slavery footprint; those steps stop here.



Financial Sense

Venture Beat

The New York Times

PBS News


Author: Katie Schellenberg

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: Flickr

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