How Many Slaves Work For You?

As far back as humanity goes, people have bought, sold, and enslaved other people.

“But not anymore right? Didn’t we abolish slavery in the 19th century? I know there are people and children who still work in questionable conditions. Sweatshops and the like. But buying, selling, and trafficking human beings? Surely that is something that only happens in wildly different cultures, far from my influence?”

Actually no.

The truth is there are 27 million slaves in the world today.

The highest number of slaves than at any other point in human history. And no matter how good you think you’re being, if you own any modern appliance or wear clothing, chances are those products have been touched by a slave somewhere in the world.

That smart phone. That T-shirt, computer, cup of coffee… That’s all stuff we buy, and that’s all stuff that comes from slaves.

It’s called the supply chain, and the fact of the matter is that brands (even reputable brands we know and love) don’t or can’t always know where the materials in their products come from. What about the cotton in that T-shirt? The tantalum in that smart phone? The beans in that cup of coffee?

That’s where you find the slaves. In the fields. In the mines. In the raw materials processing. These are people forced through violence into labour without pay, without choice, without rights, and without a voice.

They’re working for me. And they’re working for you too.

That’s where The Slavery Footprint comes in. It is an online survey (that I believe everyone should take) thats central objective is to raise awareness of the issue, and get people engaged in the fight against slavery.

In a very interactive and funky way (not that that’s important) it breaks down your “slavery footprint” by the products you use, and asks questions about your lifestyle and consumer habits: How large is your living space? What kind of food do you like? How many cars do you drive?

My score was 62.

Depressing and enlightening at the same time.

What is your score?

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32 Comments on “How Many Slaves Work For You?

  1. Thanks for writing this Tom – the issue of human slavery is something that God has been challenging me to wake up to lately too. The little decisions that might cost us a few cents more – like buying fair trade coffee – make a world of difference for someone else. Highly recommend http://www.thea21campaign.org/ for those interested in helping abolish human trafficking. Stats can be mind-numbing but just remember that the one you can help matters so much to God and you really can change their future!

  2. Thank you, Tom, for helping to bring this important issue to light. My husband and I developed and co-taught a 12-week Adult Ed class in church in which we focused on modern issues that should be of concern to the Church–trafficking, creation care, slavery, child soldiers, sweatshops, the sex trade, etc.–the focus of which was to discover what the Bible has to say regarding these issues, but also our (in)direct involvement in perpetuating circumstances that favor the abuse/neglect/mistreatment of others through consumer habits. (We closed the class by asking each participant to pick an area of interest and develop a personal action plan in an effort to keep themselves accountable to remaining involved in the issues discussed.) I had not heard of The Slavery Footprint before. Rest assured I will pass along this site to everyone I know.

    • Sounds like you guys are ping some great work raising awareness about important issues of social justice – things that matter to God! Thanks for reading and sharing…

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  5. This is convicting to think about – but it makes me wonder what I can do about it. When our global economy makes having a “slavery footprint” an inevitability when we consume goods, it seems the only solution is to live a very spartan lifestyle.
    But then on the other hand, it is inspiring. Not that I could end global slavery – but I certainly could do my part. Through supporting organizations that fight slavery, I could at least change the lives of a few individuals.
    The first step, though, is getting out of my complacency. This test certainly is a good start at doing that!

    • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. We can become overwhelmed and feel unable to change anything, falling into complacency. Or… We can decide to do the small things we can to make a difference, even if for only one person… Evil thrives when good men do nothing! Thanks for reading again!

  6. The sad thing is that we all know that we are buying goods made at sweat shops and on the backs of contemporary slaves. We have put the need for savings over our own morality, and things need to change. If we continue to put money over morality, we will eventually have neither.

  7. Thanks for sharing. I have 25 slaves working for me, and I really wish I could do something to make that 0. My husband and I have had conversations about how the products we buy contribute to slavery. I try to do all that I can to reduce my carbon footprint and promote good social justice causes, but there’s only so much we can do. Also, the problem is that we don’t make a lot of money and do have to resort to getting the cheap products that aren’t the best at ensuring fair treatment in the manufacturers’ workplaces. But it’s good to be aware, and I hope that I can try my best to advocate for those who are facing those horrible conditions!

    • I agree. It is really hard, and unfortunately the entire system is broken. We work hard to survive and of course we buy the cheapest products. The reality is that those products are not actually valued correctly when we buy them because it costs more to make and other people pay dearly with their living circumstances, so that we can have what we have.

      Does this mean we have to get radical? What is “normal” anyway? If we own a TV and more than one pair of shoes, are we being greedy? Where do we start… These are all tough questions with inconvenient answers…

      • I discussed this topic with him right after writing my comment since he’s in the finance industry and knows more about how businesses work than I do. He says that the big businesses are set up to make a profit, and then when other companies comes in, there’s a fighting mentality of what it takes to beat the competition. With that comes all the cheap labour that gives businesses more profit. It is really sad that we have what we have at others’ expense. I think there is a huge element of being greedy, but is that because society has been telling us that we need such luxuries? The craving to have what others have is always going to be there. I find that all the obsession about getting the latest gadget creates this mentality.

        There are times I can’t shop at an expensive, small local store and do need to get my groceries from the big markets. But I guess there’s the option that we can petition and help organisations that are trying to eradicate modern slavery. I believe there are stories out there about it!

  8. Great post, thanks for sharing the site, I knew the basics of this situation but this site definitely gave me more insights on the subjects. I got 45 slaves “working” for me… I think it’s time to reconsider my choices!

    • It’s crazy to think that our choice of clothing can be adding to the oppression of another. How far does the rabbit hole go?

  9. “The truth is there are 27 million slaves in the world today.”

    We think of ourselves and more civilized and advanced but not always the case. The worse part of this is the children that are forced to work in both Asia and Africa and are treated as commodities that can simple be disregard. Important socially consicious post. Thanks for the survey link!

    • Crazy to think that we could have that much of an impact just because of what we choose to buy.

  10. I like this. However with the plight of Humanity where it is at the moment, I feel powerless to change it. The question that comes to my mind sounds like, “Does that mean you should get rid of your iPhone, Macbook, Keyboard, Carpet”. I mean where does it end. This blog leaves me with no parting solution but an awareness which I like. Some blog posts give you “The Call to change” which I believe is good but with all the causes that we have today, there is just so much that you could give your life to and accomplish very little. This awareness will be with me and perhaps God will remind me of this awareness once he is ready to point me in the direction to the change.

    I have 29 slaves working for me

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