The season for finding special gifts to show you care is upon us. While most of us enjoy shopping for something unique to share with those we care about, it is increasingly important to think about the supply chain behind the food and clothing we purchase by the boatload and truckload, wherever we live. In the United States alone, while there was a drop due to COVID from 2019, holiday retail sales were estimated at 755.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2020.
Also thanks to the pandemic, coupled with an increase of extreme weather events due to human caused climate change, there has been an unprecedented rise in labor trafficking as highlighted in these recent articles Twin Threats and Climate Induced Migration and Modern Slavery, among many others. It is important to think about how these millions of purchases can hide a dark secret. Of the approximately 25 million people in situations of forced labor worldwide 16 million were exploited in the private sector. As a result, it’s possible that enslaved people made the cute pyjamas you bought for your sister or the delicious treats you gave your grandchildren for the holiday.
Labor exploitation is deeply embedded in the global economy, and governments and corporations must take on the primary burden of rooting it out, including raising supply chain transparency and due-diligence standards, revamping government-led anti-trafficking efforts, and addressing the underlying causes of modern-slavery. But in this global economy our money is our vote, so this holiday season, Human Trafficking Search invites you to consider how your holiday purchases can contribute to ending, rather than perpetuating, modern-day slavery.
The Mekong Club has developed a great global mapping tool that breaks down possible trafficking in the supply chain by product. Search by country and commodity, to see where the risk of modern slavery is found. This tool brings together various data sources into one map and is a great place to start with your shopping list.
While its true that changes in individual consumer behavior alone will not solve the issue of labor trafficking and exploitation, by being a informed shopper and using some of the tips below, you can show your support for ethical business practices across the globe and cast your vote for freedom from slavery for everyone.
All products and organizations presented here are vetted to the best of HTS’s ability but we encourage you to do your own research to ensure ongoing commitment to slavery free practices.
According to the Department of Labor’s 2021 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 facilities in the United States have been investigated for low wages and poor working conditions. Despite this issue coming up more regularly in everyday conversation, human rights violations are increasing across fashion’s manufacturing sector.
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
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. In 2019 Amazon and Walmart were caught selling towels made with cotton harvested by forced laborers in Turkmenistan. Articles about the labor abuse of the Uyghur population by China in the cotton industry have become an daily occurrence.
Instead, consider supporting small artists by buying handmade 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 Savhera and Thistle Farms
- Handmade 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. A new lawsuit has been filed against chocolate companies Nestle, Cargill, Hershey, Olam, Mars, Mondelez and Barry Callebaut over allegations that they benefited from cheap cocoa harvested by forced child labor.
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.
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, 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