5 Products That are Made Using Slave Labour and are Being Bought in the UK

Modern slavery is, unfortunately, a growing problem. It is estimated that it currently affects 21 million people worldwide, by the ILO. The UK is not immune to the problem and there have been a significant number of harrowing cases occurring within UK borders. The consequence of globalisation is that the choices British consumer makes can influence people’s lives internationally. The demand for and consumption of the five products below is having an effect on the slave trade both domestically and internationally. That is not to say that responsibility lies completely with the consumer.

If we were to see a connection between the legal industries that are using slave labour we see that there are large supply chains with subsidiaries, agents and subcontractors which means that the company with the money has very little connection or responsibility to the eventual labourer. Conglomerates and contracts have become the nooses and whips of modern day slavery. There is a sad incongruity between the futility of the eventual products compared with the ordeal that the workers go through to make them.


                The production of illegal products puts workers in a much more cannabis 3vulnerable position as they are completely unregulated. In a 2010/11 study it was found that a 1/3 of people aged between 16-59 had used cannabis, perhaps with some people being non-forthcoming when asked by a stranger. In 2005 90% of cannabis used in the UK was imported from North Africa and the middle east. Currently 90% is made domestically, over the same period of time the amount of Vietnamese Cannabis farms have sharply risen, 150% in the last two years. Philip Ishola, former head of the UK’s Counter Human Trafficking Bureau, estimates that there are currently 3000 Vietnamese children in forced labour cultivating cannabis in the UK. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that 30 Vietnamese children arrive illegally in the UK every month. Children are used much more in Cannabis cultivation than in other industries due to the nature of the work and maintaining the plants.

The issue appears to be disproportionately to do with Vietnamese people in the UK. 96% of people trafficked into the cannabis cultivation industry are Vietnamese with 80% of these being children. David Cameron in a recent visit to Vietnam has spoken about the issue and and will ask the UK independent human trafficking commissioner to do a “fact finding mission.” While cannabis remains illegal, victims have no employment rights and are frequently being prosecuted for their role in its production. There is a short video on the unfortunate experiences of one boy, called Hien, in Scotland that was trafficked from Vietnam for the purpose of cannabis cultivation on the link below: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/may/23/vietnam-children-trafficking-nail-bar-cannabis


In humanity’s history we have only mined enough gold to fill two Olympic swimming pools, it is a difficult process. Large corporations will only use a mine for the period of time where it is efficient to do so. This has left a large amount of disused mines across South America and Africa. In a lot of these cases these mines have been taken over by criminal gangs who are producing gold without any employment rights regulation whatsoever. Using South Africa as an example, there are an estimated 14,000 people working in illegal mines, generating an estimated $550m a year. A group of NGOs estimate that 2000 of these workers are in slave like conditions where they are bought and sold, unpaid and working nineteen hour days, sometimes not coming up for a fortnight. In March 2014 twenty one Zimbabwean workers died in a situation like this.

In 2013 an NGO called Verité carried out research in Peru. They found that 20% of gold in Peru was being made illegally, in isolated regions within the Amazon. In these illegal mining camps Verité found evidence of severe exploitation with people feeling under threat of violence, being exposed to potentially lethal doses of mercury, total lack of healthcare and a lack of food. In 2010 ILO found that 50,000 children were involved in the gold mining industry in Peru and were described as being subject to “the worst form of child labour.” Worryingly Verité’s research showed large amounts of the gold made in these circumstances, was making its way into the Western market. One company Universal Metal Trading SAC, who were buying gold from a region of Peru where 97% of the gold is made illegally, exported $901m worth of gold to Switzerland. After the gold arrives in Switzerland it can be passed on into any industry that is using gold such as jewellery and electronics. This is an issue of supply chains and lack of monitoring of employment standards. One suggestion given is an implementation of law to better regulate supply chains such as the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act 2010. The advice for the consumer from Verité is when buying a product which uses gold ensure that it complies with Corporate Social Responsibility schemes and has been monitored by a fair trade organisation.

3.FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

It has been frequently argued that being a migrant makes a person that much mobed382e4-c0fb-42f8-999a-644d659320fb-1020x689re vulnerable to exploitation. There are multiple reasons for this, for example, not understanding the local language or customs, namely employment rights and also many cases of debt bondage.

Qatar is in an almost unique position whereby the majority of the Qatari population is made up of migrants. The population of Qatar is two million with one point four of this being made up of migrant workers. An extremely affluent minority live in a position of superiority over a mass of workers who have come from surrounding poorer countries.

The issues surrounding the working conditions of labourers working on projects related to the 2022 World Cup have been very public. The Guardian found evidence of passports being taken by employers, not being paid for months, working in 45⁰C temperatures for eleven hours a day and six days a week for 45p and hour, whilst living in barely habitable conditions. This has led to an unprecedented number of deaths, in May of 2014 there was one migrant worker dying every day whilst working on a world cup project. In 2012 there were 13,500 deaths from migrant workers from Sri Lanka, Nepal and India. Cause of death is most often given as “natural causes” barring workers families from receiving insurance payments.

Workers are bound into this situation by the contract of their employment which uses the kafala system. Under the kafala system a worker cannot leave the job they are in and are not allowed to leave the country without their employers express agreement. This means that workers are given a choice between carrying on in their current situation or attempting to leave and being criminally punished. During the Nepal earthquakes of April 2015, many workers were prevented from going home to see their loved ones or be at their funerals. Amnesty International has called this a “blatant human rights violation.”

There has been evidence of change in Qatar. “Labour cities” have been built with improved living conditions for workers. This is still not the case for everyone and there is still a high proportion of workers living in unchanged conditions of dust, exposed gas canisters and eight to a room. The Qatar government have increased the amount of labour inspectors, which has been viewed in a positive light as well as making a move to electronic payment which makes employers more accountable. There is a suggestion that the changes being made are part of a PR facade. A BBC reporter Mark Lobel was recently arrested for attempting to investigate an area of workers residences that was not part of the new scheme. There has been no evidence of trying to get rid of the kafala system, which has led the Guardian to suggest that currently any changes made may be purely “cosmetic.”


A legacy of colonial Britain is that it created tea producing “villages” in India and Sri Lanka. These isolated, remote communities are completely reliant on the production of tea for their sustainability. There are little chances for education or opportunities outside of tea manufacturing.

A study done in 2014 by Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute looked at a group called TATA Global Beverages, one of the largest tea companies in India and former owner of Tetley. The study looked at the situation of 30,000 workers who worked on plantations run by a subsidiary of TATA Global Beverages. Columbia Law School argued that workers were kept in a permanent state of poverty. A 2013 study showed that there were up to 250 pupils to a teacher in the area and that only 43% of schools provided drinking water. The same study showed that on average men in the area were consuming 50% of their recommended calories whereas for women it was 66%. The consequence of this is a desperate desire for a better life and thus vulnerability to exploitation from people promising work in the city and a better wage. This exact situation was highlighted by Unicef, in a 2011-13 study they found 3000 women and children had been trafficked into cities. Evidence has been found of children being sold for as little as £20. For girls the form of exploitation was predominantly sexual whereas for boys it was forced labour.

In terms of solutions, for the consumer, tea can now be bought with accreditation of being fairly made such as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and that Ethical Tea Partnership. Stop the Traffik suggest the need for a “holistic approach” between local NGOs, government, corporations and the consumer. There is a desperate need to improve the lives of people working in the areas of tea plantations, such as education, raising of awareness of the threat of traffickers, improvements in health care and access to drinking water.

5. Chocolate

                An industry worth $90bn, selling chocolate is a profitable business with a large group Cocoa-Child-Laborerof sweet tooth consumers. Unfortunately evidence would suggest that very little of this wealth trickles down to the original harvesters of the cacao bean.

                70% of the world’s cacao beans are exported from West Africa, more specifically the countries of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. Western Africa is an impoverished part of the world with a dependence on the exporting of cacao to large industries for their subsistence. This dependence creates an unequal relationship that results in farmers being paid as little as $2 a day for cacao production. In order to make a profit farmers rely on slave labour, much of it involving children.

The life of people living in these conditions is extremely harsh. Research has shown people sleeping on planks in windowless buildings that are often locked at night time to prevent escape, use of physical violence, often whips to make people work faster. This is estimated to currently affect 1.8m children in Western Africa, the majority of whom are aged between 12-16 but with evidence of children as young as 5.

A currently ongoing court case has been lodged against Nestle, Mars and Hershey’s. The applicants are suing for false advertising on the basis that these companies suggest that they are ethical and have a zero tolerance for cacao produced through slave labour, yet at the same time still buying from regions where slave labour is prevalent and doing little to regulate the conditions of workers that are producing the cacao that they are buying. The current emphasis is on the chocolate industry itself to improve conditions. This is another industry where people fall victim to supply chains and the company that is making the money can absolve itself from responsibility of the initial labourer. Nestle appears to have taken the most initiative and has stated it will invest $100m into the area to try and improve conditions and education of people. The industry itself has pledged to have 100% ethically produced chocolate by 2020. There is still a lot of scepticism as to the truth in this and as yet there is little evidence of change, in fact a recent study by Payson Center for International Development of Tulane University found that conditions are worsening. As a consumer buying Fairtrade is an option, although there have been instances of Fairtrade certified farms being found to have slave labour like conditions. Food is Power give a list on their website of chocolates that they can recommend as ethical http://www.foodispower.org/chocolate-list/.


Forced Labour, Human Trafficking and Slavery, (International Labour Organization, 2015), http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/lang–en/index.htm

McNamara, M., Human Trafficking in Scotland (Oxford Human Rights Hub, 2013) http://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/human-trafficking-in-scotland/

Annison, R, In the Dock: Examining the UKs Criminal Justice Response to Trafficking (Anti-Slavery 2013) http://www.antislavery.org/includes/documents/cm_docs/2013/i/in_the_dock_final.pdf

Skrivankova, K., Forced Labour In the United Kingdom, (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2014) http://www.gla.gov.uk/PageFiles/1602/JRF%20%20Forced%20Labour%20in%20the%20UK.pdf

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Interactive map produced by Anti-Slavery showing products and countries at risk from trafficking. http://productsofslavery.org/

Equality and Human Rights Commission, Inquiry into Human Trafficking In Scotland: Follow on Report, (Equality and Human Rights Commission, February 2013), http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/Scotland/Human_Trafficking_in_Scotland_/ht_follow_on_final_web.pdf

Howie, M, Homegrown Boom Turns UK into a Cannabis Exporter, (Sunday Times, 2011) http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/National/article793965.ece

Luong, H.T., GSTF International Journal of Law and Social Sciences (JLSS) Vol.3 No.2, April 2014, Based on the “Ethnic” Factor to Understanding the Distinct Characterisitics of Cannabis Cultivation: A Review of Overseas Vietnamese Drug Groups

Wintour, P., David Cameron Vows to Tackle trafficking of Vietnamese Children, (The Guardian, 2015) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/29/david-cameron-vows-crackdown-trafficking-slavery-vietnamese-children

Kelly, A., McNamara, M., 3000 Children Enslaved in Britain after Being Trafficked from Vietnman, (The Guardian, 2015) http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/may/23/vietnam-children-trafficking-nail-bar-cannabis

Risk Analysis of Indicators of Forced Labour and Human Traffickingin Illegal Gold Mining in Peru, (Verite, 2013) http://www.verite.org/sites/default/files/images/Indicators%20of%20Forced%20Labor%20in%20Gold%20Mining%20in%20Peru_0.pdf

May, C., Good as Gold? South Africa’s Problem with Gold Mining is Severe and Growing., (Global Financial Integrity,2014) http://www.gfintegrity.org/good-gold-south-africas-problem-illegal-gold-mining-severe-growing

Mwarey, R., South Africa’s “gold slaves”, (Equal Times, 2014)http://www.equaltimes.org/south-africa-s-gold-slaves?lang=en#.Vf7QDn21QVc

Children Rescued from Trafficking and Exploitation in Cote d’Ivoire Operation Supported by Interpol, (Interpol, 2014), http://www.interpol.int/News-and-media/News/2014/N2014-058

Mades, N, Trafficking in the Tea Industry and What can be Done about it.(Human Trafficking Center, 2015), http://humantraffickingcenter.org/posts-by-htc-associates/trafficking-in-the-tea-industry-and-what-can-be-done-about-it/

Stop The Traffik, Not my Cup of Tea Report, http://www.stopthetraffik.org/campaign/notmycupoftea

Chamberlain, G., How Poverty Wages Tea Pickers Fuels India’s Trade in Child Slavery, (The Guardian, 2013), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/20/poverty-tea-pickers-india-child-slavery

Gibson, O., Qatar Pressed to Protect World Cup Workers as Deaths Continue to Rise, (The Guardian, 2014) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/01/qatar-world-cup-workers-deaths-migrant

Booth, R., Pattison, P., ‘We Want Our Pay,’ Say Qatar’s Exploited Workers, (The Guardian, 2014) http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/jun/20/qatar-promises-change-unpaid-migrant-workers

Booth, R., Pattison, P., Trapped in Qatar: The Migrants who Helped Build the Tower of Football, (The Guardian, 2014)http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/jul/28/-sp-qatar-migrants-tower-football-world-cup

Black, I., Have Qatar’s Work Conditions Improved? Migrant Workers Tell their Stories (The Guardian, 2015) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/14/for-qatars-foreign-workers-global-scrutiny-working-to-a-point

Black, I., Qatar’s PR Efforts on Labour Scandal Backfire with BBC Team’s Detention, (The Guardian, 2015) http://www.theguardian.com/world/on-the-middle-east/2015/may/18/qatars-pr-efforts-labour-scandal-backfire-bbc-detention

Human Rights Watch, World Report 2014: Qatar, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/qatar

Modern Slavery: The Dark Side of Construction, The Chartered Institute of Building, 2015, http://www.ciob.org/sites/default/files/CIOB%20Research%20%20The%20Darkside%20of%20Construction.pdf

Food Empowerment Project, Child Labour and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry, 2014 http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/

Tracing the Bitter Truth of Chocolate and Child Labour, (BBC, 2010), http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_8583000/8583499.stm

Iovino, N., Chocolate Giants Face Slave Labour Law Suit, (Courthouse News Service, 2015), http://www.courthousenews.com/2015/09/29/chocolate-giants-face-slave-labor-lawsuits.htm


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