What role do I play in this issue?
It is true that trafficking for forced labour and migrant exploitation are global problems. But it is also true that trafficking for forced labour and migrant exploitation are local problems. When you purchase a product at your local shopping centre, you are indirectly supporting the way it was produced. If the product is the result of someoneís forced labour, you are implicitly also encouraging the company which has relied on forced labour to continue relying on forced labour.
How can you make a difference?
If you are a conscious consumer, you prefer to buy products that have been produced ethically - by people working in good conditions and earning a fair wage.
Why is it difficult to buy responsibly all the time?
The most common reason is that you are not able to distinguish a product that has been produced ethically from one which has not. They may sit side-by-side in the grocery store, or hang next to each other on a clothing rack, and there may be no noticeable difference in quality, labeling, or even price.
How can you be informed? Shouldn't your local retailer be able to tell you how a particular product was produced?
The manager of your local retail store should be able to tell you where the merchandise comes from, and whether the person who grew, picked, or built the product in question works in good conditions and earns a fair wage. But many store managers are not able to tell you anything about the origin of their merchandise. There are many reasons for this, including the complexity of product supply chains in a global economy, where companies rely on a complex web of contractors, sub-contractors, and sub-sub-contractors that are spread across countries to ensure that you have a wide choice of products available in your local retail store. But the most important reason that store managers may not be able to tell you anything about the origin of their merchandise is because Consumers have never asked this question ACT NOW!
What difference will it make if I ask my retailer?
Private companies are highly attuned to the needs, interests, and behaviour of their customers. After all, the customer is always right! If the customer is happy, it is more likely that he or she will purchase the same product again, or return to the same store to purchase other products on offer. Because corporations/ companies want to keep their customers happy, they want to provide you, the consumer, with all the information you require to make a decision to purchase a particular product. The more questions we ask about how a particular product is produced, and the more often we ask the retailers, the more likely they are to want to provide us with sufficient information that will encourage us to make a responsible purchase.
Is my retailer likely to admit if it is selling merchandise that has been produced by migrant workers working in exploitative conditions for little or no pay?
Many retailers wonít know exactly how their merchandise is being produced, and some may provide you with content-free but positive-sounding answers that have been prepared by a public relations specialist. Others will find your questions to be an incentive to learn for themselves how their merchandise is produced and, if it is being produced unethically, they may work to improve working conditions in their supply chains, or change suppliers.
Why focus on private companies? Arenít governments responsible for ensuring that workers, including migrant workers, enjoy decent working conditions and fair pay?
Governments have an obligation to protect the rights of workers, and to regulate companies and foreign investments. But, governments are not solely responsible for ensuring that workers enjoy decent working conditions and fair pay. Private companies also have a responsibility to ensure that the workers who grow, pick, or build their products enjoy decent working conditions and fair pay. When the manufacture of a companyís product involves multiple producers and suppliers that stretch across the borders of several different countries, the private company is often in a better position than governments to ensure that workers enjoy decent conditions and fair pay.
But isnít it good that migrant workers have jobs Ė even if the work is hard?
Migrant workers need jobs, yes, but they have a right to fair and decent working conditions, just like any other person. Private companies donít have the right to profit by exploiting or abusing migrant workers Ė even migrant workers who donít have residency and/or work permits.
Why would migrant workers accept working in hazardous conditions in a foreign country for little or no pay?
Some migrant workers leave home because traditional forms of employment are no longer viable, while others know that they can earn more money abroad. Migrant workers, and especially those without the necessary visa or work permit, may not feel they have the luxury of choosing between employment opportunities - either because there is no social safety net to fall back on if they remain unemployed, or because they have families at home who are depending on their wages for basic survival. The desperation this creates puts many migrant workers at a significant disadvantage when looking for work, and so many Ďacceptí sub-standard working conditions and pay. Still others find themselves trapped in situations in which they must work to pay off a debt to a criminal gang, or face physical violence.
What are the major industries where workers, including migrants, may be tricked or forced into working in hazardous conditions for little or no pay?
Industries which have proven vulnerable to human trafficking and migrant exploitation include commercial agriculture and fishing, textiles manufacturing, construction, and mining. As consumers, we may regularly eat food or wear clothing that is the result of someoneís abuse and exploitation.
How can I find out which companies exploit their workers?
Although there have been numerous widely publicized scandals involving some private companies, there is no regular listing of companies which profit from the exploitation of migrant workers. Neither is there a regular listing of companies which can credibly guarantee that the products they sell are produced by workers working under fair conditions. Different companies and organizations, however, do try to monitor working conditions along the supply chain of the products they purchase.
Wonít the cost of the things I buy increase if working conditions improve and pay increases?
Not necessarily. In general, workersí wages represent a small fraction of the final cost of a fruit or vegetable, or an article of clothing. The factors that influence the price of a product are numerous. They may include the cost of the necessary resources or primary materials need to cultivate or manufacture the product, transport costs, market research, marketing, packaging, and taxes, in addition to the pay for workers. Products should be produced and sold at the lowest responsible price, which includes the costs involved in ensuring decent working conditions and fair pay to those at the bottom of the supply chain.
Should I boycott a private company if Iíve heard that it is profiting from trafficked or exploited migrant labour?
The decision to boycott a product or company is a personal one. Consideration should be given to who will profit from and who will be affected by the boycott. Although there is some evidence to suggest that boycotts can help change corporate behaviour, there is a danger that they could put workers jobs at risk.
What can I do to buy responsibly?
Buying responsibly means that we, as consumers, are aware both of the influence that our consumer habits have on the lives of the workers who produce the things we buy, and of our ability to do something to improve the working conditions of those who are not in the same advantageous position to negotiate. Here are some of the easy things you can do:
- Write directly to the stores where you shop to find out how much they know about the origin of their products, including where they come from and how they are produced. The buyresponsibly.org campaign provides the template of a letter in various languages that you can complete and send to the stores where you shop. Act now.
- Join a campaign related to a specific product or brand that works to improve the working conditions of the people at the bottom of the supply chain that produces it. For more information, click here.
- Look into the practices of particular companies and industries. Some companies have joined together to apply ethical codes of conduct with which all producers in their supply chain must comply. There are also campaigns and governmental programmes which monitor certain industries. For more information, click here.
- Convince your friends of the importance to buy responsibly.
- Join the Facebook Page , "Buy Responsibly", for more information about human trafficking for forced labour and to share your ideas of how to buy responsibly.