If you thought that slavery and bonded labor are matters of the past, you will be shocked to learn that it is still a very real and existent problem.Forced labor—the modern version of slavery, is a global problem that affects 21 million men, women, and children in various parts of the world. (Ref: https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/policy-areas/statistics/lang--en/index.htm )According to the ILO, forced labor refers to all types of work or services extracted from a person or group of people without voluntary consent. So, victims of forced labor do not accept the work willfully. Instead, they are forced into doing it through threats of penalty. These workers receive nominal wages for physically and emotionally demanding tasks. Hence, it can be considered an extreme form of human exploitation.

Traditionally, slavery referred to powerful people owning other people. However, modern-day slavery is less about owning people. Instead, it is about victims being exploited and forced to do work against their will and being unable to leave.

Forced labor was abolished by law in 1957. (Ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolition_of_Forced_Labour_Convention) Nonetheless, the practice continues in less obvious and subtle forms that are missed or overlooked by authorities. Forced labor victims must not only work in unsafe and unfair work environments, but they are also unable to leave due to threats that forced them into it in the first place.

This type of enslavement is common in deprived communities that are vulnerable to debt and poverty. We can see it throughout the global supply chain, particularly in fishing, textiles, agriculture and construction industries. Lack of sustainable jobs, proper education, corruption, and financial debt contribute to this social evil, forcing victims to undertake physically demanding jobs for cheap wages.

You will be surprised to hear that many ethical consumers may not even realize that they may be unknowingly contributing to the unfair practice of forced labor.

This is because profit-driven companies often indulge in forced labor at some stage of their supply chain. When you buy from them, you indirectly promote this unfair practice. The chances for this are higher if the products are manufactured overseas or the raw materials are sourced from areas where modern-day slavery is common.

Now, the good news is that you can ensure that you do not support forced labor in any way by changing the way you shop. Here is what you can do.  

  • Check for Fair Trade Certifications that guarantee a brand or product is free from unethical and unfair practices and exploitation at all levels of the supply chain. A brand can display the Fair-Trade label only if it meets the evaluation criterion set by the certifying organization.
  • Shop from companies with transparent supply chains. Brands that do not hesitate to share information about their supply chain practices are usually reliable and committed to sustainable and fair initiatives.
  • Be prepared to pay fair prices as companies offering cheap products usually resort to unfair practices to maintain their profit margin.
  • Stay informed and boycott companies with a history of questionable labor practices. Exercise your power as a responsible consumer through informed shopping decisions and support the global movement against forced labor.