Men carrying heavy bags of cocoa pods
Men bringing cocoa pods to collection area, near Divo, Côte d’Ivoire. Photo: Nile Sprague

Mobile phones. Clothes. Shoes. Flowers. Wine. Food. Many of the products we buy and use every day are produced by people trapped in modern slavery. Every day, millions are exploited to fulfil our relentless drive for cheap products.

At least 24.9 million people are thought to be in trapped in forced labour worldwide. Of them, 16 million are exploited in the private sector, linked to the supply chains of the international businesses supplying our goods and services.

Slavery exists in all stages of the supply chain, from the picking of raw materials such as cocoa or cotton, to the manufacturing of goods such as mobile phones or garments, and at later stages of shipping and delivery to consumers.

The reality of this is children forced to mine cobalt for use in the latest mobile phones, or women forced to produce coffee for one of our best-known brands. Almost 20% of the world’s global cotton production is linked to China’s forced labour of meaning almost every high-street garment company could be implicated.

How does it happen?

Most products pass through a long chain of producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers before they get to you. It can be very difficult to track a product’s component back to a particular producer, for example cotton in a t-shirt back to a particular cotton farm.

These long and complex supply chains make it difficult to oversee of who is working where and under what conditions, and the relentless drive for lower prices increases the human cost.

Decades of voluntary ‘corporate social responsibility’ has failed to protect people at the sharp end. Why? Because the global economy is set up to favour profits and a race to the bottom over the rights of the workers producing the goods.

Although there have been some initiatives to improve the business’ response to the risks in their supply chains, much remains to be done. For example, the UK Modern Slavery Act obliged big businesses to report on the steps they take to tackle modern slavery in their supply chains. However, the Act lacks teeth and around 40% have been found to not comply with the Act.

What are we doing?

We strongly believe it’s time to create an economy where people are never exploited in order to produce the goods we buy.

Companies have a responsibility to ensure no slavery has been used in production of the goods they sell. This applies not only to goods produced in their own factories but also to their suppliers, and suppliers of their suppliers, all the way down the supply chain.

We work on three levels:

  1. We call on governments to protect workers’ rights in order to prevent forced labour in supply chains. We are campaigning for laws to make businesses legally responsible for preventing potential slavery abuses in their supply chains. We work on campaigns to end state-imposed forced labour, including in China, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan.
  2. We work with workers at risk of modern slavery to help them know and access their rights. For example, we work with the online retailer ASOS, trade unions and local organisations to protect workers going from Asia and Africa to work in Mauritius garment industry, supplying many global brands.
  3. We also work in partnership with businesses to help them identify the risks of slavery practices in their supply chains and devise approaches to address them.

Learn more about slavery

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