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Slavery: It’s no history lesson

By Aidan McQuade - Posted on 16 April 2013

Aidan McQuade, Strathclyde MBA alumnus, Director of Anti-Slavery International and recent Mastermind winner, discusses slavery in the modern world.  

To many people slavery is something historic, a concept belonging to a brutal and uncivilised time in our history which is now thankfully far behind us.

Unfortunately, the truth is — despite the considerable efforts of revolutionaries like Abraham Lincoln — slavery did not end in the 19th Century.  Despite being banned in most countries, and prohibited by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, millions of men, women and children around the world are still forced to live their lives in slavery.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates there are at least 21 million people in forced labour, including 5.5 million children, living in conditions of slavery as a result of human trafficking, bonded labour and forced marriages.

Although this exploitation is often not called slavery, the conditions are the same. Throughout Africa, Southern America and Eastern Europe for example, people are still sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their ‘employers'.

But the issue of slavery isn’t restricted to foreign countries. The nature of today’s globalised economy means it is often not immediately apparent whether the products on our shelves have been, at some stage, produced using slave labour.

There is evidence of slavery in different stages of the supply chain from the production of raw materials, for example cocoa and cotton farming, to manufacturing goods such as hand-knotted rugs and even at the final stage, when the product reaches the market.

So what can be done?

Slavery remains a problem in the modern world mainly because some governments in particular lack the political will and the moral courage to address the underlying causes of slavery: the vulnerability and social exclusion of those enslaved.

Politicians today should ensure the rule of law on international and national levels is established to protect people from forced labour and make sure aid and trade policies are formulated to eradicate slavery.

Organisations must also take responsibility to ensure that throughout their supply chain, goods and services are sourced responsibly, produced ethically and should make certain the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is respected to guarantee they are not inadvertently supporting slavery.

As consumers we also must take responsibility by questioning the origins of the products we buy and voting with our feet to call for action to end forced labour.

I hope that the immense courage shown by Lincoln in his lifetime inspires this generation of politicians to try to emulate him when they are doing their own jobs.

How aware are you of the origins of the products you buy. Should companies do more to source goods responsibly? Let me know in the comments below.

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