By Grace Hill
With an estimated 14.2 million people trapped in forced labor worldwide according to the International Labor Organization, modern slavery affects industry on a global scale. Agriculture, construction, domestic work and manufacturing all benefit from this inconvenient truth.
Due to the prevalence of the practice, consumers enter the marketplace with the possibility of supporting slavery through their purchases. This is where consumers have to make a decision. They can purchase items blindly or become inspired by ethical consumerism, a practice of purchasing that minimizes the social and environmental damage associated with product creation. The decision requires one to be informed of the realities of modern slavery as well as the realities of his or her complicity in the practice.
Understand modern slavery.
Some may consider human trafficking to be a far away problem. But according to Polaris, an organization with a goal of leading the world to the eradication of modern slavery, human trafficking exists throughout the United States.
Ohio is no exception to this. So far in 2016, 1,654 cases of human trafficking have been reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Of these cases, 96 were reported in Ohio. Ohio sits in fourth place in cases reported, behind California with 305, Texas with 141 and Florida with 136. According to Ohio’s Human Trafficking Taskforce, about 1,078 Ohio children become victims of human trafficking and 3,016 more are at-risk each year.
The popular image of slavery may be victims who are physically bound and under the control of another individual, however slavery comes in many forms. Labor traffickers can use violence, threats, deceit or debt bondage to control workers in different industries.
In the case of debt bondage, captors will claim their victims owe a debt, and that the debt can only be paid through forced labor. Captors may isolate victims from family and friends to create helplessness. They may confiscate IDs, travel documents or money, controlling the ability of the victim to leave bondage. Victims who traveled to a country illegally may even be threatened with deportation or imprisonment.
Be aware of your choices and how they contribute to the problem.
Some may have a hard time connecting to the issue. Slavery isn’t seen directly by consumers, and the absence of this direct connection can make it hard for people to understand the true implications of their choices. However, with a little help from modern abolitionists, consumers can find this connection.
Slavery Footprint exists to bridge the gap between consumers and slaves. It asks and answers one simple question: how many slaves work for you?
The quiz asks the taker questions about their lifestyle. It inquires about residence, diet and belongings. The quiz takes into account all stages of production of a product and the statistical likelihood that slaves helped to make it.
Slavery Footprint can give users a solid connection to the problem with a single number.
Understand the labels.
To support modern abolition, consumers must buy ethically. One way to do so is to take advantage of items that have been certified as ethical. According to Fair Trade USA, the Fair Trade certification is one that allows shoppers to identify ethical products. Fair Trade certified goods are ensured to give farmers and workers in developing countries a fair wage in exchange for their labor.
Certifications are available for products through a number of organizations. Fair Trade International, Fair for Life, the World Fair Trade Organization and the Fair Trade Federation also feature their logos on products as a signal to ethical consumers.
Look into your favorite brands.
No one is perfect. Consumers don’t have to purchase certified brands exclusively.
In ethical trade it is considered essential that companies have a fully traced and transparent supply chain. This is in order to maintain knowledge of where product components come from. While some companies do not have control of this chain, others do. This makes it important to understand the practices of individual companies.
One way to make sense of these practices is through rankings of our favorite brands. Free2Work is one project working to evaluate the labor policies and practices of popular brands in industries such as electronics, apparel and coffee. The project was created by Not For Sale, an organization working to protect communities around the world from slavery, and supported by the International Labor Rights Forum.
Free2Work asks 61 questions regarding policies, transparency and traceability, monitoring and training or worker rights. The organization grades brands according to responses.
Visit the project’s website for detailed rankings of brands in several industries.
Learn the signs of human trafficking.
Companies such as Polaris work to educate people on the appearance of human trafficking in hopes of ending it.
Polaris publishes a list of conditions typical of a trafficking situation and encourages people to acknowledge the signs in their everyday lives.
Common Work and Living Conditions: The individual(s) in question
Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
Is unpaid, paid very little or paid only through tips
Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior
Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense or nervous/paranoid
Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
Avoids eye contact
Poor Physical Health
Lacks health care
Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
Lack of Control
Has few or no personal possessions
Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records or bank account
Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
Loss of sense of time
Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
Polaris encourages those who suspect human trafficking to request help or report the incidence to its National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888. It can receive text messages as well. Those in need can text HELP to BeFree (233733) for assistance.