At the turn of the 19th century slavery and all forms of bonded labor were abolished. At last hundreds of thousands of people across the globe who had never known a life of freedom were finally going to be free. They would no longer be owned property and would have rights equal to any other person walking the Earth.
However, over one hundred years later, while slavery has been abolished on paper, it continues to subject millions across the globe to a life of abject poverty and misery.
A simple Google search will flood your screen with disturbing stories detailing the plight of modern day slaves. While the concept of modern day slavery and the consequent heinous treatment vetted out to the men, women and children caught up in this situation is depressing as it is, what fuels further frustration is the involvement of high-end brands in encouraging (if not out-right practicing) modern day slavery.
From cocoa Farms in West Africa connected to Nestle, Hershey and Mars to bonded laborers working for H&M and Levis in sweatshops to thousands of children slaving away as artisanal miners in Congo to produce raw material for digital gadgets, virtually everything that we enjoy eating, wearing or consuming is a product of miserable working conditions of people who have no rights!
Here, let’s take the example of Apple – a brand that prides itself as being a leader in technological innovation. However, little do most people know that the glamorous iphones perpetuate modern day slavery. Around 40,000 boys and girls work as artisanal miners in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), many of who extract cobalt. Apple is one of the companies that has been using cobalt mined by child labor in their lithium batteries. Children as young as 9 years, work up to 12 hours a day – loading 20-40 kg on their backs for $1-2 per day! Inhaling cobalt dust can cause lung disease and skin contact with cobalt can cause a chronic rash which can result in dermatitis. Inevitably, children who work in these mines are frequently ill.
While a number of brands owing to global pressure have pledged to phase out slave labor from their products, the hard fact is that modern day slavery cannot be put to an end until consumers take a firm stand and boycott brands that perpetuate it.
Again, a simple Google search will allow you to know if your favourite brand is in any way connected to slave labor and if it is, please find an alternate brand that has a conscious!