Over the next 24 hours, Just Love Glasgow will be doing Stand For Freedom; a peaceful but powerful protest against modern day slavery in partnership with International Justice Mission. 45 million people are currently enslaved, and we want to act on this injustice. In this blog, Matthew explains a little behind a huge contributor to the current slave trade: the global labour crisis.
It might seem like a dull legal issue; too technical for any ordinary person to intervene. It might seem like a distant political issue; too far removed from problems at home to be relevant to us. What’s certain is that whilst you as a consumer do contribute to the problem, you still have more power to help tackle it than you realise.
We’re all implicated in the causes & effects of the global labour crisis, but we’re also all equipped, and called, to fight back.
Workers in the third world are being failed by their employers, by their governments, and even by OUR government. Proverbs 3:27 reads “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act”. If you can establish a scriptural basis for our duty to help others, then everything we know about God suggests we’re empowered with the means to do so as well.
So, what is the issue here, and what can we as consumers (and Christians) do to confront it? In a nutshell: globalisation has led to a vicious corporate supply chain of manufacturing, the brunt of which has been borne by innocent labourers in east-Asia, and the legislation that’s supposed to prevent it isn’t doing much good. Hopefully that’s where we can step in.
Before continuing, a crash course in the legal context might be necessary (it’s more interesting than it sounds, I promise). In unpacking the framework of it all, the first hurdle we reach is that labour law is a fairly “domestic” business. There’s overarching institutions like the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the EU (RIP), but generally the specifics of employment law are left to the discretion of their member states and signatories.
That’s problematic when it comes to fighting working conditions (some of which essentially amount to slavery) in foreign countries. Firstly it means that the informal economies of states like Bangladesh and India are basically impervious to supranational law; you can’t really externally impose minimal standards of labour on them because they have no obligation to listen. Secondly it means that closer to home, with the UK government, the onus falls on Westminster to regulate British links in the corporate supply chain; something they’re currently doing a poor job of.
Globalisation is the natural outcome of advances in technology, trade, and foreign relations. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. But to use the garment industry as an example, it’s clear that the economic pressure at the top of the ladder is creating a trickle-down effect that enslaves those at the bottom. It means that governments no longer prioritise high labour standards, instead viewing them as an obstruction to economic growth. Setting aside the paltry evidence for this theory, it’s this method of thinking that leads to cases such as the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013.
Companies have recognised that if the public hears about poor working conditions, it’s bad for business. That’s why they’ve begun to implement “Corporate Codes of Conduct”: a supposedly ethical mission statement that commits to ensuring higher labour standards throughout their supply chains. The problem is that legally these are neither binding nor compulsory. In response, the UK government introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2015, s.54 of which requires businesses with revenue over £36m to examine all stages of their corporate ladder, right down to manufacturing (where the real slave labour takes place). They’re trying to use free-market economics (if consumers hear about sweatshops etc then they will take their business elsewhere) to solve the problems created by free-market economics at the top of the corporate chain in the first place. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” is their technique, getting consumers to do their work for them, rather than legislating against slave labour directly.
So, what can we do to ameliorate this?
- Lobby your local politicians. Send an email to your MP asking to raise the UK’s acquiescent role in the slave garment trade at Prime Minister’s Questions. Make sure the legislators know that consumers care about where their clothing comes from.
- Get involved with the work of the International Justice Mission. In conjunction with them, Just Love Glasgow are doing Stand for Freedom this week to raise awareness about the modern slave trade.
- Look out for corporate codes of conduct. They should be on the website of any high-street chain, or their parent conglomerate. If it seems to you like an idle promise rather than a commitment to change, then maybe consider getting your clothes from a more ethical supplier.
There’s so much more to this issue than I can explain in a short blog, but if we recognise God’s call to act where there is injustice, then closing our eyes to slave labour is no longer an option.
Words by Matthew Sharpe
You can sign up NOW to take part in Stand For Freedom! Follow this link and commit to anything from 2 hours to 24: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1xzUMJsHcY_z50dthpPSAomm_AdQrlZIKBB-41WDrMUE/edit