How To Spot Modern Day Slavery

Modern-day slavery is alive and thriving in the world and don’t for a second think that it only happens in the developing world, it happens right here in Canada under many different circumstances, here is a look at How To Spot Modern Day Slavery.

Global News broke a story and showed just how much lack of awareness there is in the developed world.

Last year I attended WEAR, World Ethical Apparel Roundtable, in Toronto hosted by my good friends at Fashion Takes Action. WEAR aims to remove that barrier by providing the most relevant, up-to-date content, through many engaging sessions and in a format that allows for deeper participation and collaboration. Since 2014, WEAR has succeeded in bringing together diverse perspectives from across the entire fashion system. I attended one of these sessions presented by Harvey Chan, Principal at ESP Global Consulting.

Harvey has a deep background in responsible sourcing.  He recently led the audit and consulting services for the Fair Labor Association, where he worked with global brands in manufacturing and agriculture to advance labour rights.  Harvey led the capacity building services of amfori and he directly trained over 250 companies on supply chain strategy.

He also led the Ethical Sourcing programs for Mountain Equipment Co-op and Hudson’s Bay.  He is currently a Principal in the consulting practice of ESP Global Consulting, where he advises companies and public sector, clients.

His presentation was on how to spot modern-day slavery in the supply chain. I knew this existed but was really blown away by some of his findings. I chatted with him about what modern slavery is and how we can be more vigilant when shopping.

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From coffee and electronics to apparel and footwear, most of the products we enjoy and use every day are made by men and women in factories and on farms around the world. These workers harvest the cotton used to make our shirts, sew buttons and zippers onto our jackets, grow the cocoa our children drink, and make high-tech soles for our running shoes. Unfortunately, many of them work in deplorable conditions.

What is modern slavery?

Modern-day slavery is typically a situation where workers are in an employment situation where informed consent is not possible or compromised. For example, I accepted the job offer on false pretences.

I continued to sew clothes even when the factory was unsafe because of the threat of termination. I worked overtime when I didn’t want to because my employer threatened to withhold my pay.

Child labour is typically and almost always associated with forced labour because children/minors are generally incapable of informed consent. Women are highly susceptible to forced labour because of the overwhelming power imbalance in the workplace, culture, judicial system, politics, family and religion.

How can consumers spot it?

Every certification system when it comes to modern-day slavery (green label, social label, fair trade, etc.,) has to value in their respective discipline but are generally not holistic.  Social certifications tend to gloss over climate change.  Enviro labels have a weak understanding of human rights.  Fairtrade tends to have a simplistic understanding of human rights.

When a certification system justifiably promotes their discipline, keep in mind its an important part of the solution.  The other parts are often left out.  Fairtrade does a great job of getting more money into the hands of the deserved but generally does a weak job of accounting for forced labour and child labour.

It's also imperative when trying to make more mindful choices you understand the deeper concepts behind sustianabkity, zero-waste and clean beauty.


Consumers can recognize the importance of the label’s claim but also keep in mind the label doesn’t address equally important issues.

Not every farm or primary production site (food, cotton, fish, rubber, latex) in the developing world have forced labour.  But many do.  So when a brand says they don’t have forced labour or say they visit every site each year it’s usual communications marketing stuff versus a reflection of reality.  Depending on the commodity and geography, there’s a high probability that forced labour was involved at some stage in the supply chain.

Consumers can ask for fuller accountability from brands rather than default info.

Anytime child labour is employed or was highly vulnerable, migratory, poorly educated and economically impoverished women enter the workforce in highly patriarchal economies where there is weak rule of the law and high degrees of sexism, you’ll likely have incidences of forced labour. e.g., India - ginning mills, agriculture in parts of Africa and Asia and manufacturing throughout the developing world.

Consumers can ask where is a coffee bean grown, where the is fabric milled

This is a very complicated issue and I hope these guidelines offer some insight into how we can be more mindful consumers.

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Photo by Doran Erickson on Unsplash

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