March, 2023 Monthly Reflection

How many slaves work for us?

By Maria Elena Perales

Do we, as consumers, know how we contribute to forced labor? For example, the clothes we wear, the coffee we drink, and the fish and chocolate we consume all contribute to our slavery footprint. Have we ever considered how many slaves work for us?

Find out at by simply answering a few questions about our lifestyle, it gives us a glimpse of how we, as individuals contribute to the demand for forced labor. Whether we like it or not, forced labor becomes personal when we purchase goods and services from industries that rely on forced labor because we create a profit incentive for those benefitting from forced labor.

Traffickers are estimated to exploit over 40 million victims; 25 million are victims of forced labor. Because forced labor can occur at multiple points through the supply chain, from harvesting raw materials to the point where products are sold, the collaboration between corporations, policymakers, and consumers plays a crucial role in eradicating this insidious crime against our vulnerable brothers and sisters.

There is reason to be optimistic since consumers’ awareness of forced labor is increasing. We, as consumers, want to purchase with the purpose of not only speaking up against forced labor but also bringing awareness about corporate social responsibility. We must use our purchasing power to eradicate slave labor in the supply chain. How about inquiring which corporations are implementing guidelines to hold their suppliers responsible? Buying fair trade chocolate to provide a sustainable future for those harvesting cocoa/making the product or researching the best place to purchase forced labor-free clothes and making corporations accountable is a good step forward. If we see an inexpensive garment for sale, we should know that the item is most likely cheap because someone else has paid the full price.

Some guides and lists are provided to us to make ourselves aware and keep updated on ways to make a difference. We know the U.S. Department of Labor published a list of goods produced by child labor or forced labor by country. A buying guide also offers a list of slave-free products supplied by companies ranked on their antislavery policies, supply chain transparency, and third-party certification. Going through these lists and figuring out what to purchase can be overwhelming, especially if we are on a fixed budget. What is one to do? Perhaps we become more involved in our parish, community, or with AEHT and share anything we learn amongst our friends, family, and colleagues.  Getting together and sharing our frustrations and challenges and finding one thing in which we can all engage can empower us as ONE.

Maria Elena Perales, Director of the St. Joseph Justice Center for Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, is a member of The Alliance Board of Directors.