Etsy Journal

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Noted: Slavery Footprint

by Alison Feldmann

Sep 27, 2011

How many slaves work on your behalf? A new website attempts to educate consumers about the supply chain.

Do you know how many slaves work on your behalf? This may seem like a provocative — perhaps even offensive — question to ponder. Maybe you're thinking, "Slavery doesn't exist anymore. Abolition! ...Right?" Unfortunately, there are probably more folks being exploited for your benefit than you're aware of — and now you can find out the exact number. As The New York Times reports, the nonprofit group Fair Trade Fund recently launched Slavery Footprint, a website which attempts to educate consumers about the supply chain laboring on their behalf. Guided by a survey composed of clever animated prompts about location, family size and lifestyle habits, the site attempts to show that forced laborers are connected to every type of product, from designer jeans, to your new smartphone, to the coffee you're sipping as you read this. But what exactly is a "slave" in contemporary parlance? As Slavery Footprint defines it, a slave is "anyone who is forced to work without pay, being economically exploited and is unable to walk away.” And that number is not small; the State Department estimates that there are 27 million slaves globally. But this is not a matter of pointing fingers at the stereotypical sweatshops bandied about in the press; this is a matter of identifying just who's mining the mica for the new metallic eyeshadow lining the shelves, the hands that touched my pear before I bite into its juicy skin: the human slaves who fall through the cracks in the supply chain. But all of this questing for truth — well, it leaves us with some uncomfortable realities. (According to the survey, I have 39 slaves working on my behalf.) You might think, "What can I do? I'm just one person." As Slavery Footprint says in its mission statement:
"That's why we'd like to help you understand your influence on slavery. Not so you can feel bad. Not so you'll stop buying stuff…so you will ask the brands you like to find out where their materials are coming from. It's not hard for them. A free market should come from free people. We're all working towards making available an objective, third party supply chain review that will be quite clear. Together, we'll work toward a world where everything you buy could have a new kind of 'Made in…' tag."  

And now, we put it to our readers: Do you value transparency in the products you purchase? What brands are doing an exemplary job communicating their process to consumers?

And what's your number?

Alison Feldmann

Alison Feldmann is the head of editorial and brand content at Etsy. When she's not trawling Etsy for pottery, folk art, and vintage oddities, she enjoys traveling, historical nonfiction, thrift store shopping, and cooking (poorly). She loves a good cat video.