According to Slavery Footprint, a new app designed to raise awareness of global labor issues, I have 30 slaves working for me. Of course, these people are not my employees or property or in any way indentured to me. Instead it is through my consumer purchases and the web of globalization that I am connected to their misfortune.

Clicking through the Slavery Footprint questionnaire yields an overview of your possessions, lifestyle, and consumption habits. The various products you own and consume are then tallied to determine the proportion of slave labor in the global supply chains that bring those products to your doorstep. Each product has a composite score based on the typical raw materials and manufacturing processes of that industry.

The developers of the app base their calculations on five solid references:

  1. Department of State "Trafficking in Persons Report 2011"—The most comprehensive worldwide report on the efforts of governments to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons.
  2. Department of Labor (DOL) "List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor 2010"—A list of goods from countries that the Bureau of International Labor Affairs has substantiated used of forced labor or child labor its production.
  3. International Labor Organization's (ILO) "Committee of Experts Reports 2011–2003"—The Committee of Experts undertakes investigations of government reports on ratified conventions. The Committee's role is to provide an impartial evaluation of violations of international labor standards.
  4. Transparency International's "Corruption Index 2010"—This index is used to measure and quantify the levels of public sector corruption in 178 countries around the world.
  5. Freedom House "Freedom in the World 2010 Combined Average Ratings – Independent Co..."—The Freedom in the World 2010 survey contains reports on 194 countries and 14 related and disputed territories. Each country report includes a narrative on the following information: population, capital, political rights (numerical rating), civil liberties (numerical rating), status (Free, Partly Free, or Not Free), and a 10-year ratings timeline.

Of the people who have used the app so far the average number of slaves per person is 25. According to SF, my above average score is apparently the result of an overstuffed sock and underwear drawer (showing the power of cotton to this day), four bicycles in the family (two were purchased used, and they are in place of a car), and overestimation of my soap consumption (Dr. Bronner's is Fair Trade!). [Of course, biking leads to showering and changing clothes... so maybe the app actually understands my habits quite well.]

While it's impossible to make an exact comparison to pre-abolition America, it's interesting to note that the average slaveholder in the 19th century had 10 slaves. Basically globalization has completely backfired in terms of ensuring human rights as there are more slaves today—27 million plus by most estimates—than at any previous time in human history.

So despite being somewhat of a rough metric, the new Slavery Footprint app does a very effective job of communicating the slave labor implications of our consumer lifestyles. I find it hits home a lot harder than the carbon-crunching environmental calculators in whose footsteps it follows—quantifying slaves is so much more emotionally charged than amorphous tons of invisible CO2.

My one critique of this new website is that it is slightly opaque about how to Take Action. Learning more about modern day slavery requires logging in with an account. Perhaps the mobile phone app, which I haven't tested yet, provides more detail more openly. As the project goes forward my sense is that the developers will make it even easier to channel information about our purchasing habits into wiser consumer decisions.

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Tags: agriculture, globalization, labor, rights, slavery, trade, trafficking

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