About two-thirds of the world’s estimated 29.8 million slaves are forced laborers, working for private employers to supply materials and components for products sold in world markets.
Tim Fernholtz of the Atlantic gave some examples.
This summer, an Australian man imprisoned in China reported that prisoners were making headphones for global airlines like Qantas and British Airways. Some 300,000 sets of the disposable headphones were made by uncompensated prisoners who were forced to work without pay and regularly beaten. The index says that there are about 3 million slaves in China, in state-run forced labor camps, at private industrial firms making electronics and designer bags, and in the brick-making industry.
Companies like Apple, Boeing and Intel—among thousands of others—have been under pressure to document that the tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold they use aren’t being mined by slaves in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a civil war has led armed groups seeking funding to force civilians to work. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rule forcing American firms to trace the minerals they use to their origins, and while business lobbies have sued to overturn it, industry leaders have begun planning to file the first required reports in May 2014.
In the Asian seafood industry, migrant workers may become forced laborers who harvest and prepare mackerel, shrimp and squid bound for markets around the world.
Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s leading supplier of cocoa—some 40 percent of the global supply—and much of it is grown and harvested by some children engaged in forced labor. In 2010, Côte d’Ivoire said 30,000 children worked on cocoa farms, although Walk Free’s index estimates as many as 600,000 to 800,000. While this has been widely reported on since 2000, and the global response has been strong, compared to that of other allegations of forced labor, the problem has not really been solved. As of 2012, 97 percent of the country’s farmers have not participated in industry-sponsored campaigns against forced child labor. Mondelēz International, the world’s largest chocolate producer, which owns brands such as Milka, Toblerone and Cadbury, has struggled for years to take forced labor out of its supply chain. It committed $400 million to a program aimed at creating a sustainable cocoa economy last year, but its efforts have been ineffective so far.
The best way for us Americans and citizens of other wealthy countries to promote freedom and democracy is to stop our corporations and governments from supporting slavery and autocracy. This seems do-able to me.
The WalkFree organization deserves thanks for providing information that will make this possible. Fernholz wrote that WalkFree is supported by Andrew Forrest, chair of the Fortescue Mining Group, one of the world’s largest mining companies, who wants companies to eliminate slavery from the global supply chain. Good on him!
Click on Walk Free Foundation – Global Slavery Index 2013 for the full Walk Free report.
Click on A Map of the World’s Slave Workforce for Tim Fernholz’s complete article in the Atlantic.
Click on Slavery in the world today for my previous post on this subject.