A Rude Surprise!

I’ve never considered myself a slave owner. My house is filled with normal stuff; some furniture, clothes, quite a bit of music and books and an 80-year-old piano. So imagine my surprise when I recently completed the survey at SLAVERY FOOTPRINT, a new web site and mobile app, to discover that my lifestyle is made possible by 54 slaves!

When I examine the results of my survey, or I should say when the site shows me the results of my survey compared to other users in my community and worldwide, I’m able to see where the trouble is. Gadgets and food appear to have played a large role in my downfall as an ethical shopper.

SLAVERY FOOTPRINT isn’t arriving at your score in some random fashion. They have examined and blended information from multiple sources in a complex algorithm, rating each household item for the presence of forced labor in the supply chain.

Where have the materials come from? Where is the product assembled? What is the role of forced labor or human slavery in the supply chain? The reports, web sites and organizations used by SLAVERY FOOTPRINT to establish product ratings are themselves valuable tools.

So why did I end up with 54 slaves? Well apparently, I’m a what the site refers to as a “Gadget Geek”. OK, I do make documentaries for a living and I also work from a studio in my home so this drives my score up. When I look at the electronics I own for work and play it is a fairly appalling index; multiple tower computers, two laptops, several camcorders of varying complexity, many drives, monitors, mixers, routers, tripods and lenses, all of this without accounting for my personal belongings which include: a sound system, a flat-panel TV, a Blu-Ray DVD player, ( please don’t rob my house as a result of this list) a digital camera, cordless phones, a printer, fax, cell phones – you get the idea. Now apparently, these products use rare metals and materials in their manufacture and these metals come from countries where they are mined by forced slave labor.

Just two weeks ago, The US Department of Labor released its annual reports on goods produced with child labor or forced labor. One of these reports, The List of Goods Produced by Child or Forced Labor cites 130 products from 71 countries as directly exploiting children at the expense of their health, safety and human rights.

The other report, The 2010 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, profiles the efforts of 140 countries to end the worst forms of child labor.

But let’s return to my lousy score of 54 slaves. Okay- electronics are an issue in my household. But the other category where I regretfully fared poorly is food.

How many times have you gone to the doctors and been given a list of maladies to check off?
Well the creators of SLAVERY FOOTPRINT have done something similar with food generating a rather thorough list of foods, covering all categories, for your review. You enter your own estimate of how often you purchase and consume each item.I went after that list with gusto and I fear that my policy of equal-opportunity eating has got the better of me when my score was tabulated.

For somebody familiar with the causes and nature of child labor, it’s a wonder I should be surprised by my slavery score. 70% of child labor is to be found in agriculture and the production of agricultural commodities like cocoa, the key ingredient in the chocolate we love.

With Halloween around the corner, it’s a good time to take stock of where the cocoa for your favorite candy originates. For the past decade, a pervasive pattern of child labor and trafficked labor has been found in the East African supply chains of companies like Nestlé and Hershey. How ironic that the very symbol of childhood, kids in costumes collecting candy, should depend on child slave labor.

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