Here we are nearly 70 years later. December 2, The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, marking the adoption by the UN General Assembly for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of Others in 1949, yes, 1949! That was after WW2 and before the globalisation of supply chains as we know it today.
Thankfully, the UK Modern Slavery Act in 2015, and similar, growing initiatives around the world, are taking on the plight of 43 million people still caught in modern slavery. In the UK, we are requiring businesses with a turnover of £36 million or more to publish a report on what they are doing to eradicate slavery from their supply chains.
Yes, slavery still exists and should be front of mind for us all when we buy clothes, shoes, chocolate and fruits and veg, go to a nail bar or get our car washed. Shockingly, it is easier today to buy products made by slaves, than to buy slave-free products, because our dysfunctional profit-at-any-cost, capitalist economy ensures that the biggest exploiters can build the biggest empires and distribution systems – and market the crap out of their products to make them commercially more accessible than the fair trade equivalent. That’s where we conscious consumers come in. We need to buy from Fair Trade companies, and progressive businesses, that have their workers interests and sustainability running central to their mission. We need to buy less, and we if we buy new it needs to be sustainably and ethically produced. We need to invest ethically too and hold our banks accountable as they are capital in the wrong hands is promoting slavery also. Fund managers are beginning to understand the risk of slavery in the supply chains of the companies whose portfolios they manage. Frankly, it’s embarrassing that it’s taking this long..
The main forms of Modern Slavery are bonded and forced labour, child labour and human trafficking. Yes, it is ‘illegal’, but even though national and international laws exist, they are NOT enforced, because it’s not in the interests of those that hold the power. The result is an estimated 43 million slaves today and a growing acknowledgment by CEOs and corporate boards that modern slavery exists in their supply chains. In my book ‘Slave to Fashion’, I wrote about modern slavery in the fashion industry, interviewing people trapped in slavery and leading campaigners to help us understand the violence faced by the poor and how we can avoid being complicit in it. Copies available HERE.
Last week, a group of friends and fellow campaigners gathered at Claremont Project to show their favourite, most treasured and ethically produced outfit to take a stand against slavery. We are big supporters of The Clean Clothes Campaign, World Fair Trade Organisation, Fair Trade UK, and the Ethical Trade Initiative that are in different ways campaigning for corporate responsibility and promoting better practice.
Civil society, we, the people have built the Fair Trade movement, that have shaped the standards of best business practice today, and we are making a personal commitment to supporting slave free products and a slave free economic system.
We also believe that social justice goes hand in hand with environmental justice as we urgently build new sustainable systems.
My Vision For Slow Fashion and Fair Fashion
Slow fashion is low in environmental impact and high in social impact. That means that each garment uses local, sustainably produced fibres and fabrics and the making process offers creative income generating opportunities for people in rural areas as well as people working in factories. This would transform lives and communities and give rural people their political voice. The current fast fashion model is dysfunctional, being highly exploitative of people and our planetary resources.
Notes to reader
Alongside traditional forms of forced labour, such as bonded labour and debt bondage there now exist more contemporary forms of forced labour, such as migrant workers, who have been trafficked for economic exploitation of every kind in the world economy: work in domestic servitude, the construction industry, the food and garment industry, the agricultural sector and in forced prostitution.
Globally, one in ten children works. The majority of the child labour that occurs today is for economic exploitation. That goes against the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognizes “the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”
According to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, trafficking in persons means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation includes prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. The consent of the person trafficked for exploitation is irrelevant and If the trafficked person is a child, it is a crime even without the use of force.