‘Forced labour’, ‘slavery’ – we say the terms so freely, rolling off the tongue with no hint as to the enormity of the issue. It’s a problem we’re all aware of - and the guilty feelings associated with not doing enough about it. So are we any closer to stamping out slavery, on a global level, once and for all?
Slavery is illegal in almost every nation in the world, yet it still exists everywhere. It is estimated that at least 35.8 million people are forced to live in slavery around the world today. Office workers, nurses, children, teachers, in some cases the girl next door, are in factories, on farms, behind closed doors and in homes, being forced to work in shocking conditions, being threatened, sexually abused and beaten, in both the richest and poorest nations of our planet.
CONSUMER CONSCIENCE AT THE CHECKOUT
With the products of slavery and forced labour spanning almost every consumer goods industry, generating an astonishing $150 billion in profits per year - irrelevant of good intentions - it is a challenge for us, the consumer, to put our foot down and refuse to support the ever growing racket. From government enforced slavery putting over one million children into forced labour in Uzbekistan cotton fields, to conflict minerals sourced from Congo mines policed by armed rebel groups, it’s difficult to know what clothes we should be wearing and what mobile phones to buy without inadvertently supporting these practices.
You and I, the everyday consumer, can start making steps in the right direction with guidance and education provided by existing organisations. Through this kind of collaboration, a collective voice can begin to make an impact.
COLLABORATION BETWEEN RETAILERS
Any global change cannot occur without our leading retailers working together. H&M are leading the way in being economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. This not only includes producing products that are environmentally friendly but are produced fairly and safely throughout the entire supply chain.
“We want to use our scale to bring about systemic change and across the lifecycle of our products. Together with colleagues, customers, stakeholders, business partners and peers, we have the opportunity to truly make a difference – all the way from improving the livelihood of a cotton farmer to lowering the impacts from washing and drying our clothes. Ultimately, we want to make fashion sustainable and sustainability fashionable.”
H&M is not the only major retailer that has activated a focus on sustainable and ethical practice. Companies including Marks & Spencer, The Co-Operative Group, and L’Oréal are a few of many who pride themselves as having high CSR values.
With the collaboration of corporate giants, and the ongoing work from the likes of Anti-Slavery International, Fashion Revolution, and Walk Free as well as having powerful support from big influencers such as Bill Gates, Andrew Forrest and Richard Branson – who have all committed to a bid to end slavery – we could really make a change and eradicate these abhorrent practices.
As the many voices against slavery - consumers, retailers, charities and powerful individuals - become louder, the message spreads more widely and positive action becomes larger in scale and more effective. Like every other historical shift before us, collaboration is the only way it can happen.
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