TWENTYSEVEN MILLION SLAVES TODAY
In 1860 there were nearly 4 million slaves in the USA. Today there are about 27 million slaves in the world.
There is lots of legislation about slavery, and there has been for a long time.. What is adding political interest to this old question is the export of millions of jobs from Europe and North America to countries where slavery and forced labour are common. It is one thing to say that our workers are more expensive than their workers, quite another to say "we want to make profits from slave labour".
In the British chain stores, clothing can be bought very cheaply. How can it be made so cheap? In some cases it is being made by slave labour, forced labour, and child labour. The chain stores have set up an Ethical Trading Initiative. Some of the participating companies are genuinely concerned that they could be participating in unconscionable behavior. Some are just members because they are afraid legislation might be brought in. All of them are afraid of a consumer backlash.
Their problem is that the price of goods on the High Street is so low that they have to be made in a poor country. The chains really have no choice if they want to remain competitive on price.
The chains rarely set up their own factories, because they are trading companies rather than manufacturers. They let contracts to suppliers. The suppliers have to produce the goods. Although many of the contracts now specifically set minimum standards for pay and conditions, very few of the chain stores have effective supervision of what is done by their trading partners.
Meeting a Need
There are suppliers who abide by the letter and spirit of the contract. However, they will lose out on the price bidding to suppliers who are less scrupulous. Only if the chain stores make a conscious decision not to go for the cheapest will the ethical suppliers stay in business. Every year there is an expose and every year a chain says "My goodness -that's not supposed to happen!" Then they change supplier, and so resolve the presenting problem.
I applaud the State of California who have brought in the California Supply Chain Transparency Act 2010 (SB657). This requires any business with a California turnover of $100 million to disclose their "voluntary" efforts to eradicate slavery in their own supply chains. It is a significant start.
What is needed
What is needed is a law in the USA and EU that directors of companies using slave labour directly or indirectly will be sent to prison. That will concentrate minds wonderfully.
Responsibility on Men
Slavery and forced labour feeds the sex industry. We know that women and children are brought to the UK as sex slaves, and it also happens in the USA. The law has to be clear that if a male has sex for which he pays, he has a responsibility to positively ensure that the other person is not taking part as a forced worker. The law will presume guilt and the man will have to show he took all reasonable steps to obtain the knowledge..
The World is Poor
There are many people who will freely choose to work for low wages because they are poor. There is a huge difference between that and forced labour or slavery. Let us try to eradicate slavery and forced labour.