With the arrival of Christmas and last-minute shopping underway, it’s worth questioning the origins of some of our favorite holiday and gift items. It is very likely that some of the gifts under your tree, including
clothing, chocolate Y mobile phones – It will have been carried out by children who work in the exploitative or dangerous conditions of modern slavery.
It is difficult to know which elements of which companies could be affected. This is because child exploitation usually takes place at a very advanced stage in the supply chain (for example, at the cobalt mine or cocoa farm) and, unless revealed through an investigation or complaint , is largely invisible.
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Our team at the University of Hull Wilberforce Institute works to uncover modern slavery practices around the world and improve the way governments, law enforcement agencies, businesses and consumers fight against the exploitation of child labor.
We develop a systemic model called analysis circles to investigate, protect and prosecute those involved in the criminal exploitation of children. This multi-agency framework explores the interactions between the child, the perpetrator and the environment, for example, bringing together law enforcement and child protection services, to understand when and why criminal exploitation of children occurs.
What is modern slavery?
There are several categories of modern slavery and exploitation that affect millions of people around the world:
Modern slavery: the illegal exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain. Examples include human trafficking, forced labor, forced marriage, and debt bondage.
Child labor exploitation: when a child is forced to work under threat of punishment, usually with little or no pay.
Child trafficking: the relocation of a child for the purpose of exploitation.
Child sexual exploitation: a form of exploitation in which children are forced to perform sexual work for the benefit of others.
Criminal exploitation of children: a form of exploitation in which children are forced to commit crimes for the benefit of others.
According to the International Labor Organization, a UN agency whose mandate is to promote social and economic justice by setting international labor standards, there are more than 40 million people in modern slavery around the world, a quarter of whom are children. There are also nearly 25 million people trapped in forced labor.
What can we do about it?
Most advice will tell you not to buy cheap or “fast fashion” items that are more likely to have been made in sweatshops. You can also search a company’s website for a modern slavery statement that is supposed to guarantee your supply chains are free from slavery. Or you can study business policies and practices to make sure you’re shopping ethically.
All of the above are good suggestions, but they are not very practical due to three key conflicts: time, budget, and profit. Christmas is a very busy time of year. While we may want to research businesses so we can shop ethically, the reality is that we rarely have the time. Christmas is also a very expensive time of year, and for many, shopping ethically may not be financially possible. “Ethical” items tend to be more expensive than items that may have been the product of child labor.
Finally, Christmas is a very lucrative time of year for businesses, and cheap labor is one way to make money. We have seen examples of this in the UK regarding minimum wage and zero hours. contractsand a recent report shows that the effectiveness of modern slavery statements is questionable because they have not produced significant changes in business behavior.
Instead, we suggest an easy way to take action and pressure companies on the issue of modern slavery. While you’re sitting in front of your TV in your Christmas jumper, drinking wine, eating chocolates, and surfing the web, just use your phone to do the following for the companies you bought gifts from:
- Online search for: [company name] child exploitation / modern slavery / forced labor.
- Go to the company’s website and send this message: “As one of your customers, can you assure me that you are 100% sure that your products are free from child labor / modern slavery?”
- Or, for a little more detail, try this: “As one of your customers, how do you audit your supply chain – and can you provide evidence that it is 100% free from child labor / modern slavery?”
Businesses control how their websites and mobile apps are found, visited, and used. If enough of us take a moment to search or ask questions about child labor exploitation, companies will prioritize it accordingly.
Shopping affordably and ethically can be a difficult balance to navigate, but if we learn more about child exploitation and take this little action, we can all participate in a happier Christmas for all.