I Just Found Out 43 Slaves Work For Me

Child labourREUTERS/Kamal Kishore KK/TW/SHFive-year-old Rina breaks stones in the sweltering heat of West Bengal.

Apple made news this week for its deplorable working conditions, forcing children to dig in mud pits for the tin used in iPhones.

But Apple’s tactics aren’t an anamoly. At least 27 million people across the globe are enslaved. Earlier this year, I learned 43 of them work for me, making products most of us daily.

In collaboration with the U.S. State Department, Made In A Free World, a company dedicated to raising awareness about global servitude, launched Slavery Footprint — an interactive website that reveals how you personally contribute to the tragic phenomenon. 

After answering questions about my location, food consumption, and technology use, among other lifestyle choices, I learned that my actions forced 43 people to work for me without pay or the opportunity to stop. 

First of all, I own an absurd amount of jewelry. The website made that clear. 

I’ve always avoided diamonds, however, because of the geopolitical damage they cause. Wars funded by the diamond trade have cost an estimated 3.7 million lives in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Sierra Leone, according to Amnesty International

But I never knew that rubies pose an equally evil threat. The origin of Burma’s second-largest import, the government or army-controlled ruby mines commonly run off of forced labour, according to the Made In A Free World site. Silver mining has a tarnished history, too. 

My next-biggest contribution to the slave trade appeared to be my beauty regimen. I don’t even think I use that many products or wear heavy makeup. Nevertheless, my virtual bathroom cabinet was packed. 

While I’m dusting bronzer on my face, tens of thousands of Indian children collect mica — the mineral that gives makeup its sparkle — with their bare hands.

Mica also appears in mobile phones, computers, televisions, and toasters. Based on my answers to this section, some big-name companies could have contributed to my enslavement of 43 humans. Let’s break down the electronics.

I own a Mac computer, on which I use Microsoft Office nearly everyday. My roommate and I regularly play N64 on lazy Saturdays. And General Electric manufactured my microwave. 

OK, so no more hot food and video games, right? But boycotting can actually worsen the situation, according to antislavery.org. If consumers stopped buying these products, the lack of business could undermine already dismal economies, forcing countries deeper into poverty, one of the main causes of slavery. 

While the website doesn’t reveal its algorithm for determining slaves per capita, focusing on the numbers misses the point. Slavery creates products that most of us blindly use everyday. By increasing awareness, projects like Slavery Footprint encourage consumers to demand transparency from retailers.

Thankfully, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rule, which took effect in May 2014, requiring companies to trace and report many of their raw materials’ origins, Quartz reported

But unless Apple and other retailers engage in fair-trade practices across the board, my 43 slaves will remain in servitude. Click here to assess your own slavery footprint. 

Child labour REUTERS/Kamal Kishore KK/TW/SHIndia’s constitution bans children younger than 14 from working, but human rights groups estimate up to 115 million children – roughly twice the entire population of the United Kingdom – work for a living.

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