While those of us in the Western world tend to think of slavery as a thing of the past, that couldn't be further from the truth.
Nearly 46 million people worked in some form of modern slavery as of this year, according to estimates from the Global Slavery Index. The individuals who make up this shocking figure touch products in every sector, from food and personal care to fashion and home goods.
After understanding the scope of the problem, tackling it can seem daunting -- especially for everyday shoppers who learn they are unsuspectingly purchasing items connected to child and forced labor. But you'll find a bevy of solutions at your fingertips if you take the time to look.
Read on for simple ways you can help stamp out modern-day slavery, and take action today!
Use tech to shop smarter
aVOID: aVOID is a plugin for your browser that will automatically tell you if a product is linked to child labor when shopping online. It works for popular online shopping destinations like Amazon, Asos, Target and Google Shopping. Click here to download now.
GoodGuide: Focused on food, as well as cleaning and personal care products, the GoodGuide app includes a barcode scanner that allows you to instantly learn more about a product you're eying. With a few clicks, you'll receive a rating based on the item's health, social and environmental impacts. Download for free on Android and iOS. You can also use the organization's product guide on your desktop for online shopping.
End Slavery Now: End Slavery Now, an American advocacy group with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, publishes an annual shopping guide to help you make smarter purchases. The latest guide was updated on Oct. 22 of last year and includes ethical chocolate and home goods, as well as travel companies that operate ethically and sustainably. You can also browse a list of slavery-free and fair trade companies on the organization's website.
Not My Style: Last year Alisha Miranda, managing director of London-based consultancy I.G. Advisors, had a bright idea: an app that tells shoppers how much their favorite fashion brands disclose about their labor policies. She took to Kickstarter to make it a reality. And, after barely meeting her target of 23,000 British pounds, she got to work.
The result is Not My Style, a free app for iPhone and Android that will launch in beta before the end of this year. Miranda and her team have already rated more than 80 U.K. high street stores on their consumer-facing transparency, with more in the works. Sign up here to be notified when the beta launch hits the app store.
Track your impact
The organization began as a partnership between the U.S. State Department and musician, filmmaker and advocate Justin Dillon. After the release of his 2008 documentary, "Call + Response," the State Department approached Dillon to help develop a narrative that would help people understand their connection to modern-day slavery -- and Slavery Footprint was born.
By answering 11 simple questions, you can ascertain how your daily behaviors and purchases are connected to forced labor around the world. You'll also receive suggestions about how to lighten your impact. Take the quiz now.
Connect with companies about their forced labor policies
Made in a Free World: The abolition advocacy group Made in a Free World began with Slavery Footprint to help concerned citizens understand how slavery touches their lives. The group then went on to analyze hundreds of companies' supply chains to root out forced labor.
Then, in response to user demand, the organization took things a step further with tools that allow conscious consumers to communicate with brands about forced labor. Through Made in a Free World's FDRM tool, users can easily send letters to top companies -- think: Walmart, Starbucks and Mattel -- to ask them to get serious about forced labor. Some companies have already received upwards of 30,000 letters through FDRM. Send yours now.
Fashion Revolution: Fashion Revolution began as a day of action in 2014 to mark the anniversary of the horrific Rana Plaza Factory Collapse, in which more than 1,100 Bangladeshi garment workers lost their lives. Fashion Revolution Day continued last year with a shot in the arm from social media and a poignant hashtag: #WhoMadeMyClothes.
But you don't have to wait until April 14 to take action with Fashion Revolution. The group now invites concerned shoppers to ask companies about their supply chains all year round. Use the group's simple tool to send a letter to your favorite brand and ask them who made your clothing.
Use certifications to shop with confidence
Fair trade: Don't feel like staring at a screen every time you shop? Fair Trade Certification lets you browse with confidence -- without a computer or smartphone -- by ensuring products have minimal impact on the environment and the workers who made them.
While several organizations certify fair trade, all of them ban forced and child labor and require fair pay for workers. Look for seals from Fair Trade USA, Fairtrade America, Fairtrade International, the World Fair Trade Organization and more to ensure your products were made ethically.
Goodweave: In addition to food and fashion, home goods often come with a hefty slavery footprint. Take, for example, the handmade carpet industry -- which exploits nearly 250,000 children worldwide. With the rise of artisanal products and boho chic, handwoven rugs are seeing something of a revival. But most shoppers picture their purchases empowering crafters in developing countries, not enslaving children.
When buying that artisanal rug for your home, look for the Goodweave seal to make sure it actually helped the artisan who made it and isn't hiding child labor in its colorful threads.
Join TriplePundit, C&A Foundation, Remake and Freedom Fund on Dec. 5 at 9 a.m. PT/Noon ET /6 p.m. CET for a Twitter chat to discuss forced labor – an issue that still plagues supply chains around the world -- in greater depth.
Image credit: Flickr/ILO in Asia and the Pacific
Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL.