Today has been a depressing, inspiring and eye-opening Saturday. Forced inside because of abysmal weather (sleet, snow, lightening, thunder — you name it), I caught up on the PBS docuseries Women, War & Peace. As I sat reeling from what I’d just watched, I went online and started browsing some of my favorite feminist sites, which led me to the discovery of Slavery Footprint.
The site is designed to help you understand your influence on modern day slavery. Yes, slavery; it didn’t end with the Civil War. Human beings are still bought, sold and traded like cattle every day. Even as you read this, young children are being sold into slavery by their families who are so poor their only option for survival is trading their offspring for enough money to eat.
Like many Western feminists, my exchanges about slavery tend to focus on sexual slavery. But it’s important to remember that modern slavery does not exclusively exist in the form of rape. Girls, boys and women are trafficked not just in brothels but in farms, fields, mines and sweat shops across the world. There are 27 million slaves in the world today.
Given our society’s preoccupation with all things electronic and material, it’s difficult to think that our smartphones, laptops, makeup, clothes, and jewelry are most likely made by slaves. But they are. Even those items made by reputable brands.
Enter Made in a Free World’s Slavery Footprint. The site encourages you to understand your individual role in slavery-fueled supply chains — not to make you feel guilty or to stop buying things, but to ask the brands we love where their materials are coming from and to urge them to stop using slave labor.
So take a hot minute to take their survey. You are prompted to answer questions regarding what types of electronics, jewelry, food, and household goods you own and consume. As you input your answers, you are given statistics on slavery. Here are a few of them:
- Many Pakistani boys are signed away to bonded labor at the age of 13. The contracts last until they are 30. If those boys were released today, they would have begun their work when: OJ Simpson drove his white SUV down a freeway, Bill Clinton gave his first State of the Union, and Justin Bieber was born.
- In 2007, Save the Children reported that 250,000 children live and work in Pakistani brick kilns in complete social isolation. That’s more than the population of Irvine, CA, Baton Rouge, LA, or Orlando, FL.
- More than 200,000 children are forced to work in India’s carpet belt of Uttar Pradesh. That makes it a pretty large operation, considering Honda, Sony, Procter & Gamble, and Boeing each have fewer employees.
- Bonded labor is used for much of Southeast Asia’s shrimping industry, which supplies more shrimp to the U.S. than any other country. Laborers work up to 20-hour days to peel 40 pounds of shrimp. Those who attempt to escape are under constant threat of violence or sexual assault.
- Every day tens of thousands of American women buy makeup. Every day tens of thousands of Indian children mine mica, which is the little sparklies in the makeup.
- Coltan is an effective superconductor found in electronics. A U.S. State Department official was interviewed about Coltan mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He pointed to the reporter’s smartphone and said, “The likelihood that one of these was not touched by a slave is pretty low.”
- 1.4 million children have been forced to work in Uzbek cotton fields. There are fewer children in the entire New York City public school system.
At the end of the survey, you are given an estimate of how many slaves work for you around the world. It’s completely disturbing and utterly eye-opening. But, as always, you can help affect change. Made in a Free World offers ways to take action via apps and social media — definitely check them out and use your power as a consumer to break the link in the slavery supply chain.
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