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Updated on March 21, 2012

Slavery Statistics

 In 1860 there were nearly 4 million slaves in the USA. Today there are about 27 million slaves in the world.

Political Importance

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.


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    • profile image

      Birk 6 years ago

      In these days of cuts and economic crisis it is even more likely that what Amelia Blick calls the desire for cheap goods will overcome ethical considerations. Even so, it is my thought that these problems can only be solved by laws to a certain extent, it is the consumers who really have to solve these and other ethical matters.

      It sometimes seems that a person's real mission in life is to be a good consumer and make someone rich. But that also means that we, as consumers, have far more power than people in general seem to realise. I believe that if we get into the habit of viewing every little change in purchase for the better as multiplied by at least a couple of millions, we would start to make a real difference.

      The politicians are not going to solve these and other issues. We are.

    • Amelia Blick profile image

      Amelia Blick 7 years ago from UK

      I have been wondering about this issue lately given the state of affairs. I'm unsurprised about this figure; it's heartbreaking yet I'm certain that this figure is creeping up. The desire for cheap goods leads to cheapened labour and with our current global economic climate, well....

      I just wonder when we're all going to take responsibility for our materialist desires. Thanks for a thought-provoking article.

    • Charles James profile image

      Charles James 7 years ago from Yorkshire, UK

      Thank you both for your commentss.

      Many of the world's ills have an economic component.

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

      It's an interesting debate Charles. I believe we are at a pivotal point in history where dramatic changes will happen very quickly. Already there are rumblings in the clothing industry that cheap garments may soon be a thing of the past. We are also seeing UK companies initiating a process of returning their manufacturing bases to the UK. Far sighted company planners know that transportation costs and labour costs abroad are set to escalate in the very near future. I'm not saying that slavery and forced labour will disappear altogether, but the client base will change.

    • JOE BARNETT profile image

      JOE BARNETT 7 years ago

      hey charles james - that was an interesting hub! slave meaning work for no pay? forced labor meaning work for very little pay. thats the right wing at work in both countries again. id level mentality, i see it , i want it,i'll do anything to get . . .the dollar!