How Many Enslaved Adults and Children Do You Have Working For You?

Racing Upwards fellow, Diana Angeret is a lawyer by trade in the areas of human rights, gender, and corporate law. In this blog, Diana reflects upon the opaque supply chains facilitating modern slavery and the absolvement of responsibility through policy statements and diversion of blame. Diana brings attention to what we, as the average consumer, can do.
“We have a zero tolerance for child labour and victims of modern slavery anywhere in our supply chain”.
Where have I seen these words?

I am sure you have seen them too! Probably written boldly in a conspicuous place in a clothing store, shop or website. Do you ever consider why these statements are made? And where the alleged 40 million victims of modern slavery are, if there are none in any company’s supply chains?

The answer to that question, sadly, is that there are millions of modern-day enslaved people in supply chains.

Many businesses deny the use of child and forced labour in their product manufacturing and have well-written policies. However, on further investigation, you will discover that despite claiming no link to this heinous crime, there are still significant gaps in the supply chain. These gaps are what make it possible for modern slavery to thrive.

An example taken from a company’s policy against the use of forced and child labour reads: “we do not own the companies or factories that produce our goods, but we recognise our responsibility for the workers in those factories to ensure that our products are made in good working conditions”.

The statement serves to absolve the company of their responsibility to ensure that their products don’t originate from slavery or child labour, shifting the burden to someone else. What amounts to good working conditions can be interpreted in many ways.

Notably, such statements are not found on the first page of the policy, but tactfully placed in a place beyond where the average reader will reach.

You may be thinking, “this has nothing to do with me. I am a decent person. I never buy anything that was made by enslaved people or children”. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you: something as simple and innocent as a cup of coffee, a brand-new phone, makeup, or a sweatshirt could be your contribution to human trafficking, modern slavery, and child labour.

In 2020, Channel Four published a report that showed Starbucks using child labour in their supply chains. Here is a video. I must warn you, the video is distressing.

According to UNICEF, around 40,000 children – as young as seven – work where cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

More than half the world’s cobalt comes from the DRC, with a fifth extracted by artisanal (or informal) miners. Both cobalt and coltan are used in the manufacture of smartphones. Therefore, it’s highly likely that your phone’s manufacture process involved child labour.

Another example: the ingredient that makes our skin products and nail polishes glisten is mica. Mica mines employ children, reportedly as young as five years old. Horrifyingly, this is because their hands are small enough to fit into the crevices where mica is found. According to SOMO, a quarter of the world’s mica comes from the Eastern Indian states of Jharkhand and Bihar, where more than 22,000 children work in mica mines.

According to ILO, around one million children work in various mines throughout the world. UNICEF estimates that approximately 20% of mine workers are children.

How we consume directly affects the poorest in society, who are the most likely to end up victims of trafficking. We owe a duty of care to think about how our actions can drive inequalities.

According to IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative, companies can reduce inequality and build more resilient supply chains by ensuring a living wage for workers in the supply chain.
They can do this in several ways. For example, by using technology to track where all their workers and products come from.
Technology can build a direct connection between the worker and a safe job, eliminating the need for a trader who may exploit the worker. This has been very well done in the agricultural sector.

Building a resilient supply chain is great, however, as consumers we should also play our part by cutting out unnecessary excesses. This way we reduce demand, meaning that companies aren’t forced to seek cheap labour and continue this cycle of injustice.


Trust me, you can survive without eating chocolate every day!