Simon Watkinson, Communications Manager, slavefreetrade International
It’s a sad indictment of Western society that shopping is now considered a leisure activity and over-consumption is the norm. Food retailers encourage us to pay more to buy in bulk for extra products that go to waste, and fashion outlets seduce shoppers with discounted clothing they don’t need and usually end up throwing away. But worse than the waste itself is what rock bottom prices rely on - forced labour, today’s modern slavery.
Yet there is now a way to reduce consumption as well as forced labour quickly and easily, allowing us harnessour purchasing power while furthering human rights. Educating ourselves on aproduct’s labour footprint using slavefreetrade International’s new Freedomer app can help us make informed decisions on what or what not to buy and bring unethical retailers to their knees.
When it comes to shopping, we just can’t help ourselves. Maybe it’s because we’re bombarded with clever advertising to entice us to buy the latest products – the exotic quinoa breakfast cereal or the trainers with revolutionary insoles that will seemingly improve our lives. It’s also difficult to stop consuming when products, relative to income, are so cheap.
The US Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that approximately one-third of all food produced annually for human consumption is either lost or wasted. That’s enough to feed all of the world’s 820 million people who go hungry four times over!
But it’s hard to resist consuming when companies are constantly trying to persuade us to buy something. According to sociologist and Georgetown University Professor Emeritus Theodor W. Adorno, this mass commodification is all part of what he terms the “culture industry" -- society’s obsession with consumerism that is driven by companies dictating how we should think and what we should buy.
The culture industry does not allow us to reflect and discover the true meaning of things, because the goods and services provided add little value. Though some technological advances are always welcome, most updated products won’t significantly enhance our lives or guarantee our survival on the planet.
Perhaps we wouldn’t be so keen on over-consumption after learning that today’s globalised supply chains make it almost impossible to avoid products tainted by modern slavery: cane sugar, cocoa, fish, salad crops, and tinned fruit and vegetables, as well as electrical goods and clothing are the worst offenders. For the 25 million people worldwide who are trapped in forced labour, over-consumption may not simply be a matter of excess, but of life and death.
It is difficult to tell whether a product was made in decent working conditions. The bulk of cheap products, unless they are loss-leaders and part of a seasonal marketing drive, have likely been produced using forced labour. This might involve the underaged worker toiling with unsafe machinery for fifteen hours a day without adequate breaks, or the unprotected fisherman risking life and limb in dangerous seas to catch tuna for our salads and sandwiches.
Stamping out modern slavery in the workplace can only be achieved if we are able to ascertain the true labour footprint of products. With slavefreetrade International’s recently released Freedomer app, determining what or what not to buy has never been easier.
Freedomer allows you to trace how and where the products you’re browsing were manufactured and whether they were produced by slave free labour. This is the first step in transforming the lives and communities of victims of modern slavery, giving them the chance to enjoy dignified, ethical employment. What’s more, taking time to consider our options rather than purchasing blindly will naturally lead us reduce waste and increase sustainable consumption.
So before making a purchase, let's all ponder three questions: “Do I really need this?”; “Will this enhance my life?”; and more profoundly, “Was this item produced in unacceptable working conditions by a victim of modern slavery?”
Only you know the answer to the first two questions. For the last, count on Freedomer.