That shirt you’re wearing is probably made by modern slaves
Modern-day slavery is happening right in front of you and you don't even know it
Jul 27, 2017
It’s not an uncommon story. A Filipina will go abroad in hopes of providing a better life for the family they left behind only to be forced into inhumane conditions. Yesterday, news broke out that two Filipina domestic workers sued their employers in New York who happened to be German diplomats. The Filipinas who were employed in succeeding order worked 17 hours a day non-stop. The work included caring for the couple’s four children, cleaning the home, driving the family members around, doing the laundry, cooking the meals for the family and the guests, and shoveling the snow to name a few. They were also considerably underpaid from their initial contract.
Modern slavery has become an unspoken norm in the Philippines that so many are willing to compromise their well-being just to get by. In New York, however, it’s a different story. The numerous complaints filed against the employers included the violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for breach of contract, nonpayment of overtime and spread of hours compensation, as well as failure to provide a statement with every payment of wages.
What is modern slavery?
While these Filipina domestic workers were still paid, others like “Lola” in Tizon’s My Family’s Slave featured in The Atlantic receive no form of stipend at all. According to antislavery.org, modern slavery includes either of these elements: forced labor, being owned or controlled by an “employer,” being physically constrained, and/or being treated as property.
Human trafficking is worse in third world countries and can be happening right under your nose. Our family had numerous relatives from the province working without pay in our home. As a child, I was brainwashed by my mother to think that providing them meals and a roof over their heads were enough reasons to keep them working for free.
What can we do?
While the idea of modern slavery is a bit detached when boxing out domestic helpers in the equation, human trafficking involves us all. And it all starts with the choices you make as a consumer. Becoming a more responsible consumer means supporting labels (especially for chocolate and coffee) that practice fair trade. The closer you are to the source, the more sustainable.
Next, check the clothes you don. Buying a bargain can also mean supporting brands that use children in their factories. Bangladesh is notorious for child laborers in the millions starting as early as six years old. In 2013, Dhaka’s Rana Plaza factory structural collapse took the lives of more than 1,000 garment workers, mostly young females, and gives a peek into the hazardous conditions these modern slaves work and live in.
While our sensibilities nowadays understand the value of fair labor and won’t let workers go unpaid, the most we can do as regular citizens is to support brands that put an effort in their manufacturing. Slavery is most prevalent in the processing of raw materials: in the mines, in the fields, or in the factories. So before buying anything from your favorite label, do some research and check if that shirt was made by the hands of slaves. Not sure? Here’s a survey to help you figure it out.
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