Sunday, September 25, 2011

Working like a slave

When millions of people (children and adults alike) are told to be living like slaves in the 21st century, it is not just rhetorical to refer to harsh work conditions in some parts of our planet. It is literal. Despite so many UN treaties and conventions (the last was UN 1956 Convention) banning slavery, there are still many cases of slavery practice. Millions of people are sold as objects and forced to work for extremely low salaries or no salary at all, living at the mercy of their “owners”. This is constantly reported by such associations as Anti-Slavery International, fighting against slavery since 1839, in any of its forms: from traditional slavery, in which people literally belong to an owner, to forced labour or sexual exploitation of children.
Contrary to other issues such as environmental problems, we all feel that we are not to blame for slavery because it happens very far from our home and we can do little about it. But we do not need to have slaves at home to be an accessory to slavery. Just by consuming products manufactured or grown by slaves, we are made accomplice in this savagery, we do our bit to keep things the way they are. If you are against slavery, you should first get to know where and how your purchases are produced, and you should make sure that your shopping is not part of this act of injustice. To make things easier, Anti-Slavery provides you with a useful tool: the Products of Slavery campaign. In its website, you can find a world map with the countries where slavery is still present and the products affected by this practice. Then, you will realise that a large majority of labourers in Brazil’s pineapple plantations are children aged 10 to 12 and 20% of them get no financial remuneration. Or that some factories in China manufacturing sport shoes use forced labour in prisons, without being paid. Or that, due to poverty, in Burkina Faso some children are sold by their parents as slaves to work in cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast. Or that India holds the world record of products manufactured by slaves (18 products) and it is one of the countries where bonded labour (forced labour to repay a loan) is most widespread.
As consumers, we should be aware that we do not live in a bubble: our every little action has an effect, for better or worse, on thousands of people. Our pocket money is a very powerful weapon and we should use it conscientiously.


  1. Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slavery Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery:
  2. Anti-slavery web site:
  3. “Products of slavery” campaign:
  4. Slavery Footprint, another very interesting web site on this issue:


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