“Together, we’ll work toward a world where everything you buy could have a new kind of
‘Made In …’ tag.” - www.slaveryfootprint.org
I never really thought too much about how the things I buy are manufactured. I have went on living life worrying about other things, that getting to the molecular level of my purchases was an afterthought. I am very encouraged however to find that someone was thinking about the supply chains of what we consume and had planted the seed into what is now the Made In The Free World organization.
In taking the organization’s Slavery Footprint exercise, I learned more about the term Modern Day Slavery and was presented statistics I never seen before of the slavery that goes on in the manufacturing of things I loved. The fact that there are people who are attempting to escape 20 hour days from hard work and sexual assaults to make the things that I eat and enjoy, really hit my heart. I thought about how these types of issues are not on the news and that the concept of awareness here is tremendous. I wanted part in spreading this awareness, as the results of my Slavery Footprint exercise found that it’s estimated that 88 slaves work for me! Next time I see a “Made In…” tag I will think very differently.
I wanted to learn more, as I was very intrigued by what can be done to rid this issue of supply chain slavery. Do we consumers have a demand issue; do we want and need too much? Or should we point the finger at businesses? These were immediate thoughts as I looked at the map of my slaves and learned more about them. I had the pleasant opportunity to discuss this with Ashley Sholer who is a Grassroots Marketing Associate at the Made In A Free World organization. Ashley helps manages social media campaigns and projects, helps create and maintain partnerships, coordinate events and runs the Campus Chapter program.
I learned from the organization’s website that there are 27 million people enslaved around the world. How is slavery defined in the sense of modern-day supply chain slavery?
The terms most commonly used to represent modern-day supply chain slavery is forced labor or slave labor (interchangeable). A victim of forced labor is; anyone who is forced to work without pay, being economically exploited, and who is unable to walk away.
What type of items do we consume where the slavery is most prevalent?
Unfortunately, the use of forced labor is prevalent in most industries at any point in the supply chain. However, research indicates slavery most commonly happens at the raw materials level. Meaning, in the mining, farming, aquafarming industries. Those raw materials, such as tantalum, cotton, and produce then go into our technology, clothes, and food.
The mission of Made In a Free World is to empower individuals, groups and businesses with innovative solutions as a means to end slavery. What type of innovative solutions have been found?
Good question, which has a long answer. Our most well known innovation is Slavery Footprint, this is an interactive platform we created with the U.S. State Department to help people answer the question; “How many slaves work for me?” In addition to Slavery Footprint, people can visit our Action Center or download the Free World app and send letters for businesses asking them to become ‘Made In A Free World’. We also have on the ground projects aimed to free slaves from different industries, our first of which was freeing 6 kids from the fishing industry on the shores of Lake Volta, Ghana. We are in the midst of our #IChooseFreedom campaign and are planning another awareness campaign scheduled to launch before the end of this year. Also, this is our very first year having Made In A Free World Campus Chapters. These are a way for students from all over the nation to work with their schools to spread awareness and introduce slave free products.
Your organization believes in changing the systems in which slavery thrives. What can be done to eradicate the conditions that are being found in the slavery? What are some sustainable changes businesses are making?
Slavery is perpetuated in places where consumers and companies have little or no visibility. Companies can implement a supplier code of conduct (many of which are available to the public on the company’s website), they can achieve 3rd party certification for fair labor practices, and they can partner with industry organizations or NGOs to implement better supply chain transparency.
There has been an overwhelming response to the cause and the number of supporters continues to grow every day. What type of influence does this demand for freedom have in the overall current economic market?
Over the last 10 years, we have seen a dramatic increase in consumers’ desires for ethically sourced products. Looking ahead, we expect to see this desire expand from ethically sourced products, to products sourced from ethical companies. In other words, it is no longer sufficient for companies to provide one product that is ethically sourced while using exploitative practices in the rest of their operation. Whereas in the past companies could have a ‘green’ product but mistreat their workers or treat their workers well but destroy the environment, we now see consumer pressure for a holistic approach to business and an emphasis on the Triple Bottom Line (People, Planet, Profits).
What types of tools are given to businesses to understand their supply chains and implement changes?
The primary hindrance to transparency in supply chains is cost. If a company buys a component for their product at the right price and with consistent quality, they do not have a strong incentive to dig deeper. Consumers can provide this incentive. Once a company has the desire to better understand their supply chain and where their products are sourced, there are many tools available to them. The most commonly used is a supplier code of conduct, whereby a company sets minimum operating standards as a condition for winning/retaining their business. The company can then conduct internal reviews (audits) of their suppliers to ensure that these companies are upholding their commitment to operate in compliance with the code of conduct. This practice typically ladders up to third party auditing such as Fair Trade, or SA 8000 whereby a company pays an external party to visit the facility, farm, etc., and verify first hand that workers and/or the environment are being respected. As a matter of efficiency, many companies join trade organizations such as BIFMA or create their own industry organizations such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to develop standards and share best practices.
What is the biggest challenge when discussing supply chain slavery with businesses?
The word slavery carries very heavy connotations and because of that businesses actively try to avoid being associated with that word entirely. No company wants to be the first mover and publically admit that there may (we know there is) slavery in their supply chain. One of Made In A Free World’s primary objectives is to create a circle of trust whereby companies feel comfortable opening a conversation about slavery in the first place. This is not yet the case, which is why we are working to inform consumers through Slavery Footprint that each and every one of us has a connection to slavery and can do something to help end it.
The organization believes that the only way to change the world is to “work together,” a term found often on the website. Tell us more about this guiding principle?
Slavery isn’t merely a government or business issue. Nor is it an “us vs. them” issue. It’s an “all of us” issue. Its individuals, nonprofits, academics, governments, community groups and businesses working together. It will take a global movement to end this global and ancient injustice.
Made In A Free World is a place where all of us can leverage our unique strengths and global influence. We make it possible to work together in order to achieve more than we possibly can do alone. We’ve brought together millions of committed consumers from all corners of the world ready to support businesses who demonstrate their shared value of freedom.
What types of activities are non-profits, academics, governments, community groups, and businesses working together and doing to contribute to freedom?
This answer is similar to the one about our innovative solutions. We have people from every single one of these groups working together by learning their Slavery Footprint, taking action in our Action Center, supporting our campaigns and on the ground projects, as well as hosting awareness or fundraising events. In addition to participating in those efforts, people have shown our film ‘Call+Response’ to their companies, community groups, academic institutions and non-profits. In the near future, there will be many other ways these groups will overlap and work together to bring about a time when everyone and everything is ‘Made In A Free World.’
What can we consumers do? Describe what a ‘modern day freedom chooser’ is?
As consumers, you can discover your Slavery Footprint and take action by sending letters for businesses tell them you want products without slave labor and ask them to become Made In A Free World. In addition, keep the conversation going. Let people know that slavery exists and there is something each and every one of us can do to end this injustice. That is exactly what a freedom chooser is. It is someone who uses their freedom of choice to say “I choose freedom for everyone” and then acts upon their declaration.
In Ghana, the organization rescued 6 kids in the fishing industry. How are slaves being rescued and how are the local governments responding?
Unfortunately, for the security of our partner organization, Challenging Heights, we cannot provide details of the rescuing process. However, our project did put 6 kids on a path to freedom. The includes the rescue process, provides one year of schooling and medical treatment, as well as counseling and micro business training for the child and his or her family.
You have a campaign called #ichoosefreedom where people pledge to be a part of the movement. What is the main message of the pledge? What kind of response have you had in this regard?
The main message of #IChooseFreedom is: Whether or not we realize it, the majority, if not all of us, indirectly benefit from slave labor. We all have a responsibility to take action and use our freedom of choice to create freedom for all. We have gotten a positive response from supporters all over the world.
Freedom is one of many Universal Rights that apply to human beings. What other Universal Rights does the organization feel is important to humanity?
Freedom is honestly the most essential, universal right. Without freedom, no one has access to any other universal right. Freedom over oneself cannot be taken lightly, it includes way more than we may realize. Many people who are trapped in slavery are stripped of everything, including their name.
What do you think is the root cause of forcing fellow humans to live and thrive in slavery conditions?
This is a very complicated question, and I do not think there is one right answer. Many people who are guilty of enslaving others do not think of it as a human rights violation. It is a business decision to increase profits and decrease overhead. Also, as consumers we inadvertently allow businesses to continue using slave labor. Does that make slavery any less contemptible? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Does framing it that way put into a solvable solution? We believe so. Actually, we built an entire organization around the belief that slavery can and will end in our lifetime. When people know about the issue and will not stand for it any longer, businesses will not be able to get away with using slave labor and will provide livable wages and safe work environments.
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