Have you ever wondered how many slaves work for you? Of course you haven’t, why would you? There’s no one living in the cupboard beneath your stairs or chained in your basement. There’s no stranger in your house cooking, cleaning, gardening or doing other unmentionable tasks for you and your family. What a ridiculous question to ask!
You’re a good person and you live a good life. You don’t bother or hurt people, let alone have them as slaves, and you give to the disadvantaged in your neighbourhood or support the poor overseas. Some of you even support anti-slavery organisations in a variety of ways.
But here’s the thing… even though all of the above is true, and as terrible as it is for me to say, I’m willing to stick my neck out and suggest that you have slaves working for you just like I have slaves working for me. Let me offer a brief explanation.
Recently I typed in some very basic information into a website and it calculated that 51 slaves work for me. Slaves working for me—no way! But, as I began to think about it, I realised that I don’t have a clue where all the things I have accumulated over the years—in my house and life—come from.
Where do my gadgets, clothes, appliances and food come from? Can I put my hand on my heart and say that no slaves were involved in their making? I remember talking to someone about small petrol generators and where they come from. I asked if they were slave free and the immediate response was, “the company I deal with is a good company and they wouldn’t have slaves.” Then I asked, “see that bolt, way underneath the head of the generator, do you know where that bolt was made and by whom?” Of course my friend couldn’t answer that question to any level of satisfaction thereby leaving room for some doubt.
Let’s bring this closer to home. The NZ media have published a number of articles in recent weeks about employers who have not been paying their staff correctly or at all in the restaurant industry. The accused businesses have been fined significant amounts of money. Believe it or not this is happening in the horticulture, agriculture, viticulture and construction industries.
In November, the 2014 Global Slavery Index report was published citing New Zealand as having 600 slaves. Walk Free Foundation, the producers of the Global Slavery Index report, announced a dramatic increase in the number of slaves in the world this year. Attributing their number to improving data collection, they estimate the number of slaves in the world at 36 million. That’s a six million increase on numbers in the 2013 report. These numbers continue to stagger me as I try to reconcile them for myself. That’s 1 in 200!
Maybe they are the slaves that produce the components for some of my technology, perhaps some of those slaves make the clothes I wear, or maybe some of those slaves serve in the restaurants I frequent, or pick fruit and veggies I purchase.
Let’s test this idea a little. Do you like bananas? Yes, of course you do. So which bananas do you buy? Can you confirm that no exploited worker or slave picked or processed or shipped the bananas you are now eating in your banana and chocolate muffins? Chocolate—now there’s an ingredient more familiar to us—is the chocolate in the muffins slave free? Some chocolate, like bananas, is in fact slave free or fair trade, but most are not. Just because a chocolate company can legitimately put the Fair Trade label on one product does not automatically confirm that all chocolate from that company is Fair Trade or slave free. It’s a good step in the right direction, but it’s a long way off being acceptable.
Let me ask you the question again, how many slaves work for you? As we enter into the Christmas season can I encourage you to think about that question? Purchasing of products skyrockets this time of the year. Perhaps slaves, not elves, have been working all year so that you and I can enjoy the presents beneath the Christmas tree and the food we will mount up on our tables. How many slaves will help you this Christmas?
Today, 2 December 2014, we celebrate the United Nations International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.
“In the 19th century, the international community came together to declare slavery an affront to our common humanity. Today, governments, civil society and the private sector must unite to eradicate all contemporary forms of slavery, including forced labour. Together, let us do our utmost for the millions of victims throughout the world who are held in slavery and deprived of their human rights and dignity.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Message for the International Day
for the Abolition of Slavery
2 December 2014
Note on the Featured Image:
This image was snapped from a 2-minute video produced by film students at Hothouse Productions, Boston University College of Communication. Now You Know was devised in close collaboration with the client, The NO Project, a global anti-slavery public awareness initiative. See it here.