Since January 1, I’ve been dedicated to living a fair trade life. At least, this was my intention, but a survey I did at showed me that, in fact, my family relies on slave labor. Sixty one slaves to be exact. This survey even revealed the main culprits that are sabotaging my efforts to purchase only things made ethically, under fair conditions—medicine, electronic gadgets, my car, and my clothing.

I thought I was doing well, buying clothing made in Canada or the U.S., avoiding dollar stores, Wal-Mart, Sears, LL Bean and Ikea, amongst the worst offenders of slave labor. I buy my spices, coffee, tea, jewellery, scarves and candles from Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade store that has been around since 1946. ( I even buy used clothing when I can’t find fair trade items, and count myself lucky enough to be able to walk to three such stores from my house.

But what I discovered at Slavery Footprint, is just how far-reaching the slave labor problem is, and how its tentacles are wrapped around so many common items used in cosmetics, electronics, fuel, and clothing. Here’s a summary of the items used in products I have, which are derived from the slave labor chain:

  1. Peru: silver, tin
  2. Brazil: sugar cane, cotton, soy, coffee, emeralds, silicon
  3. China: acrylic, cashmere, gold, mercury, nylon, pearls, quartz, silicon, lead, polyester
  4. Thailand: latex, rubber
  5. Viet Nam: Coffee
  6. Malaysia: Mother of Pearl, ruby, palm oil
  7. Japan: pearls
  8. Zambia: cobalt, cotton, emeralds
  9. Congo: Copper, coffee, diamonds, gold
  10. Saudi Arabia: Paraffin, petroleum, acetone, alcohol
  11. India: linen
  12. Russia: Nickel, mica, aluminum, petroleum

My wedding ring is emerald with diamonds, and for our tenth anniversary, my husband gave me an emerald and diamond band. I love pearls and along with inheriting my grandmother’s, have amassed quite the collection over the years. I just bought a mother of pearl necklace on my recent vacation. Cashmere is my favorite wool; not only have I bought a few sweaters for myself, I’ve given cashmere scarves and sweaters as gifts.  Though I try to buy from reputable designers, I see from Slavery Footprint that the cashmere itself could easily come from slave labor. Mica is in the cosmetics my daughters and I use…I think my girls should take out stock in the local pharmacy considering the amount of makeup they buy.

Discouraged? Yes. Determined to keep working towards a “Made in a Free World” life? Absolutely. Especially after seeing Slavery Footprint founder and CEO, Justin Dillon, on Katie a couple of weeks ago. He started out as a musician, holding anti-slavery movement benefit concerts. This led Dillon to make a human trafficking documentary that caught the eye of the U.S. State Department. At this point, Slavery Footprint was born, proving that one person really can make a difference. Learning about Dillon brings to mind Craig Keilburger who also started a movement—Free the Children—by himself after learning about child slavery.

Dillon’s website is an eye opener…I think his survey, which finds out how many slaves work for you, should be mandatory in every middle school in North America. Until I completed this survey, I had a false sense of pride about my success avoiding products made through slave labor. Now, I know I have a long way to go to truly achieve a “Made in a Free World” status (Dillon’s phrase).

I need to buy makeup from manufacturers who don’t use mica or other products from the slave labor chain. I need to buy clothing from places where I can trace the fabric back to reputable wholesalers, and I will buy all future jewellery from fair trade manufacturers.

Slave labour is bigger than I thought, overwhelmingly disturbing. In Brazil alone, 25,000 men and boys are enslaved on cattle ranches, logging and mining camps. There are over a million slaves in Russia, including 20,000 children. This disastrous situation won’t go away unless we consumers stop buying products made under these conditions. Without a market, there can be no more suppliers. The solution is simple. We just need to think more about what we buy to ensure our first-world lives do not come at the expense of slaves.

About Shelly Sanders

Shelly (represented by Amy Tipton, Signature Literary Agency) is the author of THE RACHEL TRILOGY--Rachel's Secret, Rachel's Promise & Rachel's Hope (Second Story Press).Rachel's Secret received a Starred Review in Booklist and was named a Notable Read from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Rachel's Hope was shortlisted for the Vine Awards for Canadian Literature in 2016. Before turning to fiction, Shelly was a freelance journalist for the Toronto Star, National Post, Maclean's, and Canadian Living.
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