The gift-giving season is upon us. In the United States alone, holiday retail sales surpassed $1 trillion in 2019. But among these millions of purchases hides a dark secret. Of the approximately 25 million people in situations of forced labor worldwide, 16 million were exploited in the private sector as of 2016. As a result, it’s possible that enslaved people made the new sweater or piece of jewelry sitting under your tree.
This holiday season, Human Trafficking Search invites you to consider how your holiday purchases can help to end, rather than perpetuate, modern-day slavery. Labor exploitation is deeply embedded into the global economy, and governments and corporations must take on the primary burden of rooting it out. This includes raising supply chain transparency and due-diligence standards, revamping government-led anti-trafficking efforts, and addressing the underlying causes of modern-slavery.
Changes in individual consumer behavior alone will not solve the issue of labor trafficking and exploitation. But by using some of the tips below, you can take an active part in supporting ethical business practices across the globe.
According to the Department of Labor’s 2020 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, garments are currently being produced with child and/or forced labor in at least 11 countries. Even garment facilities in the United States have been investigated for low wages and poor working conditions.
As you shop for apparel, look for brands that work directly with small artisans and factories. You can find more information on responsible apparel shopping in End Slavery Now’s Slave-free Buying Guide.
You can also directly support victims and survivors of human trafficking by purchasing:
- Tees, dresses, and tunics from Elegantees
- “Punjammie” loungewear from Sundara
- Bags, backpacks, and purses from The Shop for Freedom
- Wallets and quarantine essentials from Rethreaded
Both gold and diamonds are high-risk materials when it comes to labor exploitation. Children and indigenous peoples in particular have been enslaved, displaced, and killed by mining operations around the world, including in situations of armed conflict. Some ethical mining certification programs have also come under fire in recent years for, so ensuring that your jewelry is exploitation-free is not easy. Buying vintage pieces or synthetically produced diamonds is one way to ensure that your purchase is not directly contributing to environmental or human rights abuses.
You can also directly support victims and survivors of human trafficking by buying:
- Birthstones and beaded pieces from Ethicgoods
- Simple and elegant hoops from Purpose Jewelry
- Gold, silver, and pearl-based jewelry from Starfish Project
- Colorful silver necklaces and earrings from Her Future Coalition
Global supply chains are murky and little effort has been made to trace them beyond the first tier of suppliers. Because of this, many major retailers have no idea who made their products or what conditions they were working under. For example, Amazon and Walmart were caught selling towels made with cotton harvested by forced laborers in Turkmenistan as recently as 2019.
Instead, consider supporting small artists by buying hand-made goods from local stores. The AFL-CIO has also published a list of union-made holiday gifts, including board games and sports products.
Alternatively, you can directly support victims and survivors of human trafficking by buying:
- Home décor made from secondhand saris from Sari Bari
- Candles and essential oils from Thistle Farms
- Hand-made greeting cards from Good Paper
- Children’s toys and stocking stuffers from New Creation
Chocolates and coffee
Chocolate and coffee make great gifts, but ensuring that they are slave-free is crucial. Both the cacao and coffee bean harvesting processes are notorious for labor exploitation, and traditional certification schemes like Fairtrade may not be entirely reliable. Despite claims of ethical sourcing practices, brands like Mars, Nestlé and Hershey have failed to live up to their promises to eradicate child labor in their supply chains.
We recommend looking for brands that source directly from farmers and stress their commitment to fair labor practices. Tony’s Chocolonely is unique in its mission to eradicate slavery in cacao supply chains worldwide. You can find a list of other slave-free chocolate brands here.
Many coffee shops now stock fair trade and direct-source coffee. Three stores in particular have dedicated themselves to fighting human trafficking with innovative new business models. You can visit them in person or online at:
- A Second Cup in Houston, Texas.
- The Freedom Café in Durham, New Hampshire
- Palate Coffee Brewery in Sanford, Florida
For more ways to shop ethically all-year round, visit End Slavery Now’s list of slave-free companies. And finally, make sure to share this blog and spread the cheer of ethical holiday shopping.
Aubrey Calaway is a Research Fellow at Human Trafficking Search