Tucked away in the bling of and glitzy brands and complexities of supply chains, there are numerous places where child labor or forced labor still exist. People are still made to work in inhospitable conditions, where they risk severe illnesses and even death. It is estimated that over 40.3 million people are trapped in modern slavery, out of which over 70% of slave labor victims are women . Even with strict laws, child labor or modern slavery thrives in many parts of the world, especially in meager neighborhoods of economically weak countries, low-lying and discreet.
Consumers are often oblivious of ground reality and are not informed of the unethical practices along the value chain. But slavery is so deep-rooted in the complex supply chains that it extends from raw materials through the finished product. Governments have strived to hinder modern slavery, but untraceable supply chains, made up of an assortment of suppliers that put together a single product, have rendered all the measures futile.
Perhaps, the fashion industry is one of the most notorious for child labor or modern slavery. G20 countries imported a whopping $US127.7 billion word of garments flagged as at-risk products of one or the other form of slave labor.
A single piece of fabric or a finished product could include raw materials from different farms and suppliers. And there is certainly no way to trace from where the raw materials come from, what are the working conditions of the farms, the average age of employed people, and more.
It is the work of the governments to enforce strict anti-slavery laws and making sure that the criminals are held to account, but it is more than a single entity’s task to ensure the laws enforced are implemented through the supply chain via traceability. Only this way can we have a forced labor-free world.
It is as much as in the hands of giant conglomerates as it is in the hands of governments to ensure modern slavery is stopped completely. Global organizations need to be actively concerned about where the raw material for their products comes from, what kind of conditions the staff are working in, and much more. Businesses need to be on a constant lookout for the signs of exploitation, forced labor throughout the supply chain.
There is a lot that consumers can do to help stop slave labor. To begin with, they can raise a voice. They can speak out against slave labor and the prejudice happening to the weak. They can trigger a mass movement, a global slave labor abolishment protest, to help end slavery and make this world a better, humane place for everyone. Having the right tools to make the right purchases is just one part of the process of ending slavery.
Consumers can also research the products before they buy. They must ask the right questions – Who made my clothes? From where were the raw materials sourced? What was the average age of workers who made clothes? How were the working conditions? Were staff paid justly? And much more. Also, to discourage production with the help of forced labor, consumers can opt to reuse, resell, swap, repair, tailor, donate, or use hand-me-downs to acquire good clothes. If the demand for the products falls, so will the forced labor.
Furthermore, consumers can speak about the effect of forced labor with their friends and family and urge them to share it. Purchase things only from the brands you know are ethical in production practices and those who support banning forced labor or slave labor. It is a long road to stop child labor completely, but tenacious efforts from consumers, parallel to those of corporations, can surely make a dent in the slave labor industry.
Finally, you can do your bit by joining organizations such as IJM, ILO, Antislavery, and more and supporting them in any way possible in their honest efforts to end child labor.
Blockchain can play an instrumental role in stopping child labor and exploitation via transparency in and public supply chain information. Creating traceable, verifiable supply chain for the fashion industry can be the new standard. For example, children who are usually victims of child labor hardly possess any identification documents, making it cumbersome to track and remove them from child labor. Hence, technologies like biometric identification, iris scanning, and more, can help create a virtual identity for the workers, making it easy to track their employment history and significantly hinder forced labor by abolishing illegal confiscation of identification papers.
Moreover, Blockchain can be used to get information about the provenance of goods for a company. Traceability will ensure companies remain concerned about sourcing the goods ethically, especially when it comes to overseas sourcing, and reduce the chances of being connected to child labor or forced labor.
Many organizations, such as Free2Work, toil hard to keep an eye on child labor. Free2work has been continually tracking mega brands such as Adidas, Gap, Levi’s, H&M, to name a few, and ranking them based on transparency in the supply chain, policies, monitoring and training, worker rights, and more. The scale goes from A grade to F, A being the best-in-class practices and F being the worst, perhaps sometimes, even illegal. It is surprising to see how most giant corporations receive D or F grades, signaling the extreme heedless nature of companies towards child labor or forced labor.
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