Resources Self-Care

Modern Slavery and Ethical Consumerism

By: Rachel Werner

What if I told you that SLAVERY still exists? According to the United Nations, there are over 40 million slaves in the world. Just to help put that number in perspective, that is equivalent to the population of New York City, Los Angeles, London, Chicago, Toronto, Bangkok, Houston, and Sydney COMBINED. In addition, “people are reported to be trafficked from 127 countries and exploited from 137 countries, impacting every continent and every type of economy.”

Unfortunately, one of the primary misconceptions surrounding human trafficking is that it is solely a clandestine network focused on sex trade. Although, that does represent a significant portion of the crimes involving people being forced into labor without pay—and confined to inhumane living conditions—a number of these violations also occur in developing countries at factories owned by corporations many of us purchase goods and/or services from here in the United States on a regular basis. Labour Behind the Label cites the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as having proclaimed “a living wage as a human right, but the majority of garment workers abroad are making less than half of a living wage by typically only earning between 1-3% of the retail price of an item of clothing.”

Global initiatives such as Dressember are working to raise awareness about modern day slavery. Dressember is a collaborative movement leveraging fashion and creativity to restore dignity to victims and survivors of human trafficking. LaToya Aure, a Dressember advocate, was drawn to this fashion-forward movement on a personal level. “2017 was the first time in a long time, I felt the weight of my blackness—rather it be at work, through my personal life or through media. I just grew more frustrated,” she shares. “I had opportunities to be a part of ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ groups to help drive change, but all they did was make me more frustrated. So I started doing some research to see what other great leaders did to help empower, unite and give a voice to the voiceless. I kept being led to stories about people doing very simple things that had huge impact. A prime example being stories around the Underground Railroad. Others’ simple acts of opening up their homes to give safe passage to people going to the North so they could be free.”  

The Global Slavery Index has identified “the fashion industry as one of five key industries contributing to the prevalence of modern slavery.” Thus, how we chose to replenish our wardrobes, beauty products, electronic devices and a variety of other household items can have substantial impact on women and families around the world. Marie Hunter Beauty founder and creative director KéNisha Ruff affirms this perspective.

“Being an ethical consumer in regards to fashion and beauty means supporting products and garments that are ethically produced, sourced and are not harmful to the environment and society. When it comes to fashion, shopping fair trade clothing; purchasing secondhand; or building a capsule wardrobe are best,” she explains. “Buying fair trade ensures that the makers are earning a livable wage and the materials are sourced ethically. To create a capsule, this will require you to purge your closet of items that you don’t wear frequently and donating or selling the ones that don’t make the cut. Your capsule wardrobe will be based on your lifestyle and can consist of neutral blazers, sweaters and pants.” 

Need more incentive to rethink—plus repurpose—your clothing in this capacity? A recent statistic from Fashion Revolution reveals 400% more clothing on average is bought today than just two decades ago so it has never been more crucial to ensure your hard-earned dollars are spent with eco-conscious brands whose missions align with your values, particularly concerning social justice. As often as possible, procure apparel and accessories from designers and companies committed to making organic products—sans the cost of substandard human labor conditions. 

Moreover, Ruff whole-heartedly agrees. “When it comes to beauty, purchasing cruelty-free and/or vegan products and products that have sustainable packaging and ingredients are best (i.e., refillable containers, biodegradable packaging, etc.),” she says. “Beauty products often contain toxic ingredients that are carcinogenic or harmful to the environment. Shopping with brands that are transparent in their ingredient list and educating yourself on cosmetic ingredients will help you determine which brands/products suit your lifestyle.” 

What factors determine which brands and/or products you purchase? Tell us in the comments below. 

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