45 slaves work for me*

Sorry I spoil your week-end, but here is another impulse from yesterday. I’m still processing this.

These days I’m attending a series of webcasts about business compliance. One of the topics is about making sure your vendors or suppliers are playing nice… for example, they don’t use slave labor or child labor to get you the products or services you need.**

What I’ve learned made me furious, and at the same time, it was the most hard-hitting mirror test about privilege and inequality.

As far as I can see, every business in the developed world swears they don’t use slave labor. But somehow more than 40 million slaves work in various industries right now. As if the American Civil War never ended, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights never happened.

Of those, 10 million are children.

(Source for all this: Global Slavery Index 2018)

It’s easy to shrug this off as something that happens far away. But if you live in the US or Europe, you are using—enjoying—the products of slave labor every day. You don’t even have to be middle-class.***

Pretty much every industry is infested, food, clothing, electronics, construction, hotels, and the list goes on. Even within Europe, sex trafficking is still happening, and slave labor—within Europe—is still used in the agriculture… are you sure the fruit and veggies you get at Tesco’s were not picked by slaves (mostly immigrants being forced to work without pay)?

I’d like to focus on one industry for a minute or two: Electronics. You know, smartphones, TVs, car parts, and so on.

There is no ethical electronics.

If you do a bit of digging, you can get food or clothes or cosmetics that is free of slave labor. Not electronics, phones or computers that are viable.

Everything that has a rechargeable battery in it uses a rare metal called cobalt. Cobalt is not mined in a whole lot of places. Most of it is mined in Congo, where slave and child labor is rampant. To learn more, visit this site.

So, if you use a smartphone, a laptop, or a hybrid or electric car, you are enjoying the product of slave labor. There is an ongoing class action lawsuit against five big-tech firms—including Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Tesla—that allegedly knew about the slave labor being used in their supply chains, and still did not stop this or came clean. We’re still waiting for a verdict on this.

I’m writing this post on an Apple device. My other computer is a Microsoft Surface. No matter how I want to see myself, the mirror test shows I’m complicit.

We should stop using these devices. Except that it isn’t realistic, especially not with the coronavirus on the loose. In my country, you can actually donate smart devices and laptops to charities and schools—to allow kids living in poverty to access education again.

What is the second best option then? There’s no way I walk past this. But for now all I can do is speak out. First to you. Then we’ll need to find a way to influence big-tech manufacturers directly.

As a first step, you can visit this site to find out your slavery footprint.**** This is where I got the number in the title of the post. Then you can keep educating yourself and speaking out whenever you see a chance.

One slave, one child laborer is one too many. I know this blog does not reach a whole lot of people, but if it can make a tiny contribution to mass awareness, I’ll be satisfied.

You may want to share this. Thank you.

P.S. Hey Apple, Microsoft, Google, Dell, Tesla, get your sh*t together already and stop this. If you can’t or won’t, that will be a sign that big tech is inherently bad and deserves to be split up or ended by force. It’s bad enough that you need a lawsuit to take notice. For goodness’s sake, Microsoft, you’re a founding member of the largest compliance association in the world! Act like it.

* I have no photo of my own that tackles slave labor—it would probably hard to get even if I was a professional photographer who deals with social issues. So this time, uncharacteristically, I bought a stock photo for my post. Source: favor_of_god at iStockphoto

** My company is often asked by customers to sign codes of conduct where we have to confirm we don’t use slave or child labor. As a small business that develops software, we automatically sign these—for the most part, we work with local vendors that we know personally.

*** In 2018, the 20 richest countries in the world imported 350 billion dollars’ worth of goods that were most likely produced using slave labor. (Global Slavery Index)

**** Read more: https://www.endslaverynow.org/

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