Images via screengrab
Um, so this is a kind of horrifying wake-up call. A website called Slavery Footprint will run a few questions by you to tell you just how many slaves around the world are at work providing you with the things you wear, the things you eat, even the sporting equipment you play with. Scariest part is just how many there are working for even those of us who try to be conscious consumers. Inhabitat writes, "Last month marked the anniversary of the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, which we all know ended slavery for good 149 years ago, right? Wrong. While that's what we in America are taught in our textbooks, slavery is still alive and well around the world (including in the U.S.). In fact, most of us have several slaves working for us at this very moment."
I checked out the Slavery Footprint site and launched into the survey. It's pretty simplified -- they aren't calling for you to declare exact items by their brands, but more an overall assessment of your closet, medicine cabinet, refrigerator contents and so on. It's just the right level of depth where you'll get a fairly good idea of your social impact without having to invest a day in checking every label in your home.
What did I get as a score? *shivers*
I have 23 slaves working for me. Freaking 23!!?!? This is truly awful. Sure, I've guiltily bought the random "Made In China" thing or the pair of shoes that I liked because they're cute, not because they're made sustainably by folks who chose to make them because they wanted to. But 23?? Ouch.
There's something to be said for being made aware of your impact and using that as a tool, waking you up from a mild sense of guilt to actually changing your purchasing decisions. It happens with carbon, it happens with water to a lesser extent, and here, with forced slavery.
Let's just put aside the fact that slavery, to its core, is simply wrong and horrible. Slavery and poor working conditions are also deeply connected to environmental concerns. Slavery is a sign of desperation for an entire area.
A place that would force slavery onto its people in these modern times is also most likely a place with few choices, with few resources for its people, where an income from mass production of plasticrap and clothing or the mining of minerals for richer nations is so important to its survival that it would do this to humans. And it is most likely a place with little concern for the environmental impacts of both that production on the environment and the impact of the inhabitants on the ecosystem.
As a conservationist said in a speech at Wildlife Conservation Network this last weekend, "If you're poor, if you're hungry, you cannot do conservation." It goes for people as well as towns, counties, countries, nations. You're too busy working to survive to worry about the survival of plants or animals, or the purity of water, air, soil.
A common argument heard for buying sweatshop-manufactured items is, "Well it's better to make one penny a day than nothing. At least I'm supporting some income for a family." Well, not really. We're supporting the continued degradation and humiliation of both the environment and people.
There are other options -- funding microloans for women and small businesses working to make a living doing something sustainable or important for their local communities, or funding non-profits that employ people to work on conservation projects, solving two issues at once.
There are options for us to provide options for others.
Check out Slavery Footprint and take the quiz, and see just what kind of impact you are making now -- and what kind of impact we could make if we changed up our purchasing decisions.
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More on Slavery, Poverty and the Environment
Human Trafficking Awareness Day: Forced Labor is a Green Issue, Too
Climate Change, Like Slavery, Needs a True Cultural Shift to Stop It
Quiz: How Much Of Our Chocolate Is Tainted By Slavery?