What Lies Behind the Things We Buy?

You have probably heard about trafficking in human beings. But have you ever thought about the part you play in all of this?

You have probably heard about trafficking in human beings.

And you have probably heard stories about migrant workers who are forced to work on farms, construction sites and fishing boats, and in textile factories and food processing plants.

You may even know that some of the everyday products that you find at your local shopping centre have been produced by people working in sub-human conditions for little or no pay.

But have you ever thought about the part you play in all of this?

Created by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the "Buy Responsibly" campaign is an effort to end human trafficking by raising awareness among consumers of products and services provided by trafficked and exploited labour.

Eliminating the demand for trafficked and exploited labour to provide the cheap goods and huge profits desired by consumers and businesses the world over is critical if global efforts to end human trafficking are to be successful, according to IOM.

IOM launched its ‘What Lies Behind the Things We Buy?’ campaign on October 19 2009, the third European Union (EU) Anti-Trafficking Day and the start of a European ministerial conference on global EU action against human trafficking in Brussels, Belgium.

The campaign, designed by Saatchi & Saatchi in Geneva, hopes to kick-start a change in consumer behaviour.

“For too long the belief has been that poverty and gender discrimination are root causes of human trafficking, which can only be tackled at source. This is short-sighted,” says IOM Director General William Lacy Swing. “Quite simply, human trafficking is driven by the demand for unreasonably cheap labour and goods from around the world.”

"Consumers who are increasingly demanding fair trade have the power to end labour exploitation by buying responsibly and getting business to rethink how it operates. It’s also in the interest of business to ensure its supply chain is not using trafficked or exploited labour. This can make a huge difference in countering human trafficking," says Swing.

IOM explains that ageing populations, falling birth rates, and labour force participation in industrialised countries – coupled with an over-supply of labour in developing countries without sufficient channels for legal migration – have paved the way for human traffickers to profit from the demand for cheap foreign labour and services.

According to IOM, some estimates put the number of people in forced or bonded labour and sexual servitude in the world at any given time at 12.3 million.

Although the focus has largely been on the issue of trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation, greater incidences are emerging of trafficking for labour exploitation involving all ages and both sexes – for example, men and boys trafficked to work in the agricultural, construction, fishing, and domestic service sectors. Up until now, global counter trafficking efforts have mainly focused on prevention and post-rescue assistance in source countries with little work done to tackle the equally critical demand side.

The Figures

Worldwide, approximately 12.3 million people are believed to be working in conditions of forced and exploited labour.

In industrialized countries, 113 000 people work in conditions of forced labour In the United Kingdom, between 500,000 and 600,000 irregular migrants are believed to work in exploitative conditions.

In France, the majority of Chinese migrants in forced and bonded labour work up to 21 hours per day.

If all people in forced and exploited labour situations were to be fairly compensated, they would be owed more than US$ 19.5 billion.

And if those working in conditions of forced labour in industrialized countries were to be fairly compensated, they would be owed more than US$ 2.5 billion.

The Campaign

Encouraging the public to ask, "What Lies Behind the Things We Buy?", the campaign hopes to kick-start a change in behaviour by urging consumers in particular to play a greater role in ending human trafficking. A 30-second television spot was created for broadcasters to air.

The campaign launch (at Place Schuman in Brussels) featured an enactment of the TV spot involving an inverted giant shopping trolley imprisoning models representing trafficked migrant workers.

Consumers are encouraged to visit the Buy Responsibly website to learn about human trafficking for labour exploitation and what they can do to end it. For example, IOM here points out that "As consumers, there is a lot we can do individually to make private companies aware of our concerns. The more questions we ask, and the more often we ask them, the more likely they are to listen – and, in the end, act. After all, it is a business maxim that the customer is always right." Concrete action points included here are:

• "Write directly to the stores where you shop to find out how much they know about the origin of their products, including where they come from and how they are produced. The website provides sample letters in various languages to send to companies.
  • Join a campaign related to a specific favourite brand that works to improve the working conditions of the people at the bottom of the supply chain that produces it…
• Research the practices of particular companies and industries. Some companies have joined together to apply ethical codes of conduct with which all producers in their supply chain must comply…
• Convince your friends of the importance to buy responsibly."


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