Modern day slavery is a $150 billion business. Human trafficking is the fastest growing means by which people are enslaved, the fastest growing international crime, and one of the largest sources of illegal profits. According to the International Labour Organization, 21 million people around the globe are working under conditions of forced labour, the majority of whom are within the private economy.
Some of consumers most basic purchases are produced by forced labour, and in particular child slave labour. By some estimates, 115 million children worldwide are trapped in the supply chain of some 128 goods that use forced labor and human trafficking.
The top 10 products bought by consumers that are tainted by the inexcusable use of child slave labour are:
Other notable industries that earn their profits off the backs of children are chocolate and coal.
The top five countries with the most enslaved people include India, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia. India, with the second largest population in the world, is by far the worst offender with the largest absolute number of modern-day slaves estimated at 14.3 million people. India’s forced labour population is more than four times greater than China, the next highest population, and greater than the next four countries combined.
While the use of slave labour in India and China may be due in part to the sheer scale of the two countries, there are differing reasons for the prevalence of human trafficking in the top five countries. The most common form of slavery in India and Pakistan is bonded labour, which is frequently used by employers in unregulated industries such as brick making and textiles. As workers fall deeper and deeper into debt and destitution, other members of the family, including children younger than eight years old, must work to try and payoff the debt.
Last year, roughly 166 million workers in China left their homes to find work. That is greater than the entire U.S. labour force. These migrant workers are especially vulnerable to enslavement in the construction and mining industries.
State sponsored slave labor of children and adults in the cotton sector continues on a vast scale in Uzbekistan, while rampant law enforcement corruption puts over one million people at risk of modern day slavery and sex trafficking in Russia. Slavery in the supply chain of products consumers purchase every day is rampant, and it’s a reality that many consumers turn a blind eye to.
Yet a turning point may have been reached in the fight to combat human trafficking and forced labour as new legislation is gaining traction. The legal tide may finally be turning against this terrible scourge on human rights.
Consumer awareness plays an instrumental role in pushing forward the fight against the indefensible use of human trafficking and modern slavery in big business’ supply chains. Consumers can make a difference. Slave free products aren’t hard to find, just look for certifications on product labels like Fair Trade, Equal Exchange, FairTrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
Ethically sourced brands can be more expensive than those produced by slaves, but the extra few cents is worth it . . . every single time. Big business won’t stop the use of slave labor until consumers stop buying it. Now that you know, what are you going to do about it?