US consumers buy $144 billion in products tainted by slavery each year

US consumers buy $144 billion in products tainted by slavery each year

By Luke Vargas   
Courtesy: Walk Free Foundation, Global Slavery Index 2018
Courtesy: Walk Free Foundation, Global Slavery Index 2018

A new report finds more than 40 million people are subject to modern slavery worldwide, what activists now call a 'first world problem.'

UNITED NATIONS – A new study finds more than 40 million people are victims of modern slavery worldwide, with some 71 percent of them women and girls.

Fifteen million people find themselves in forced marriage, while close to 25 million are engaged in forced labor in sectors like fishing and cocoa production.

That forced labor is most rampant in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, but when products are shipped overseas, American consumers end up buying products featuring supply chain slavery.

“Modern slavery is a first-world problem.”

Andrew Forrest is a founder of the Walk Free Foundation, which produced the 2018 Global Slavery Index.

“We are the consumers. We are the people who are drawing in, in America alone, nearly $150 billion per annum of at-risk goods – fish, cocoa, electronics, etc. – where there is rank slavery in the supply chain source.”

Some industries self-police against slavery and other manipulative labor practices by placing fair trade stickers on qualifying consumer products, but Forrest said countries need to pass laws mandating supply chain transparency, even if those laws hurt corporate bottom lines.

“If you’re a chief executive or an investor and you’re not prepared to take human rights into account now, you don’t deserve to be a chief executive or an investor.”

Another phenomena driving modern slavery are laws that prevent migrants and refugees from escaping conflict zones and instead leave them in countries where they’re vulnerable to exploitation. One such country is Libya, where African migrants blocked from reaching Europe have been filmed being sold at slave auctions run by local traders.

Fiona David is the executive director for research at the Walk Free Foundation:

“This is in part because of this broader systemic failure that we have to create safeways for people to migrate. So Europe has become fortress Europe, and I think we need to be realistic that if the United States becomes fortress United States, we better be aware of what the consequences are going to be downstream.”

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