|Child labor is rampant in Uzbekistan and many other parts of the world.|
My good friend K recently wrote on whether it was possible to really know where the materials in our purchases originate, and whether they were mined/harvested/developed under exploitative conditions. She asks, in short, whether it’s possible to be an ethical consumer. I would add the adjectives inexpensively and easily to the question.
Overall, 2011 was a great year for anti-trafficking efforts:
- The United States was profiled for the second time in the annual Trafficking in Persons report by the State Department.
- The director of CALL + RESPONSE, launched the long-awaited Slavery Footprint app that calculates the approximate number of slaves that work for you.
- Not for Sale also developed a user-friendly app that cross-references the Department of Labor’s List of Slave-made Goods with barcodes of everyday items.
- International Justice Mission, as usual, frees hundreds, if not thousands, of people from slavery.
- Google and other companies are jumping on the anti-trafficking bandwagon and donating millions of dollars to the cause.
But 2012 has to be better because one slave is too many. So in response to K’s post specifically calling out my former favorite store, Forever 21, here’s a basic rundown of what they’re doing to combat slavery and injustice via their website.
Supplier and Vendor Social Compliance and Ethical Sourcing
Forever 21 enters into a comprehensive agreement with each of our vendors and their factories under which they promise to utilize legally qualified workers, pay them wages which are fair and legal in their jurisdiction, and provide an environment that complies with their legal requirements. Our agreement also covers issues of time off, free association rights, nondiscrimination, environmental protection and security, and prohibits the use of forced or slave labor, child labor, or prison labor.”
Special Note About the 2012 California Transparency in Supply Chain Act
“On January 1, 2012, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 (SB 657) will go into effect, requiring retailers and manufactures above a certain size and doing business in California to disclose measures used to track possible slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains. The disclosure is aimed at providing information to consumers to allow them to make better, more informed choices about the products they buy and the companies they support.” [see full statement here]
Granted, Forever 21 certainly seems to really be doing the bare minimum as required by law, but that’s all they are legally obligated to do. The law can only go so far. The real deal breaker is if Forever 21’s predominant constituency – women ages 14 to 30 (ish) – demanded serious change and accountability. Maybe by starting a Change.org petition. Maybe by pressuring law enforcement to make an example out of the company while others watch closely. Maybe by boycotting the store. Whatever the action, if consumers like us demand accountability for exceeding the bare minimum requirements (i.e. basic human decency), then the only bare minimum that Forever 21 will be known for is the length of its skirts.