Do you know how many slaves work on your behalf?
Michel Filho/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
While many people may assume the answer to that provocative and unsettling question is zero, the creators of a new Web site want to demonstrate how forced labor, especially overseas, is tantamount to slavery.
A nonprofit group, with funding from the State Department, will unveil the new site, www.slaveryfootprint.org, on Thursday in an effort to show that forced laborers are tied to all kinds of everyday products, from electronics and jewelry to the shirt on your back.
Ideally, they hope to get consumers engaged enough in the issue to do something about it, primarily hoping people demand that companies carefully audit supply chains to ensure, as best as they can determine, that no “slave labor” was used to manufacture its products.
“What we are trying to do is make it so it’s not just someone else’s business, it’s everyone’s business,” said Luis CdeBaca, ambassador at large for the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. “There’s a horror about it when they figure out what is going on.”
The slavery footprint is a twist on the more commonly known carbon footprint, and the new site tries to point out areas of a consumer’s life where the organization believes slavery is most likely used to manufacture products.
Slavery Footprint defines a slave as “anyone who is forced to work without pay, being economically exploited and is unable to walk away.” The State Department estimates that there are 27 million slaves globally. The Web site steers users through a set of prompts, where they can define where they live, the type of dwelling they live in, how many children they have, how many cars they use, what they eat and what types of things they have bought.
Sprinkled throughout are grim notations about slave labor and human trafficking, like this one: “In China, soccer ball manufacturers work up to 21 hours in a day, for a month straight. Even the toughest American coaches wouldn’t ask that from their squads.”
Or this claim: “Every day tens of thousands of American women buy makeup. Every day tens of thousands of Indian children mine mica, which is the little sparkles in the makeup.”
The site also asks users how many times they have paid for sex. While there is no way to answer, the site notes that people who pay for sex contribute to the demand for sexual trafficking.
The Web site offers a numerical score of how many slaves users have working on their behalf; the average is 55.
The site was created by the Fair Trade Fund, a California-based nonprofit group that uses media to promote advocacy on issues, particularly human slavery. Among its projects are “Call + Response,” a film on the slave trade, and chainstorereaction.com, a Web site that encourages consumers to send electronic letters to companies challenging them to define their policies on human trafficking.
The companies’ responses, or lack thereof, are posted on the Web site.
Based on the movie and the Web site, the State Department sought out the Fair Trade Fund to create the Slavery Footprint site and provided it with a $200,000 grant.
Justin Dillon, 42, the organization’s chief executive, said the Slavery Footprint site did not make specific companies its targets. Instead, it shows consumers which products they use are most likely to involve forced labor.
He said a mobile application would allow consumers to find information on products at the point of purchase, and send companies electronic letters asking about their policies on slave labor. Those letters will also be sent to all of the consumers’ Facebook friends, in the hopes of applying consumer pressure for changes in practices. “Really the goal is to amplify the conversation between the consumer and the producer,” Mr. Dillon said. “Our torches and pitchforks are out for the slave traders, not the multinationals.”
Ideally, he said companies would hire third-party auditors to determine if their supply chains were employing slave labor.
The Slavery Footprint application is being started nearly a year after California passed a law that requires companies with global sales in excess of $100 million who do business in the state to disclose what efforts they have made to eliminate forced labor from their supply chains.
Some business groups opposed the measure, saying it unfairly tagged companies for “failing” on an issue they were powerless to change.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the United States Chamber of Commerce said he would not comment because officials at the organization had not yet seen the Slavery Footprint Web site. Mr. CdeBaca said the new grant recognized the need to encourage consumers to put pressure on the marketplace.
“Without some kind of demand, the traffickers wouldn’t be rushing to meet that through coercion and threats,” he said.