What’s Your Slavery Footprint?

A question from the survey on the Slavery Footprint website.

How big is your house or apartment? What (and how much) do you eat? How much bling do you wear? How many times have you paid for sex? Slavery Footprint’s survey asks you these questions—and many others—to determine how many slaves worldwide work for you. The results are shocking. The average score for survey respondents is 25 slaves. “Emancipation set the slaves free,” quips the Slavery Footprint website. “That’s what we like to think anyway…. That smartphone. That t-shirt, computer, cup of coffee—that’s stuff we buy, and that’s stuff that comes from slaves.” It’s not that the brands we know and love are running sweatshops. The problem is in the supply chain—the cotton in the t-shirt, the coffee beans, the tantalum in the smartphone. Companies don’t know where their materials come from, and unless consumers turn up the pressure, they probably won’t bother to find out.

As you work your way through the survey, you are presented with some pretty disquieting facts. First, the basics: there are at least 27 million slaves worldwide (roughly the combined population of Australia and New Zealand). When the survey asks your age, it informs you that “many Pakistani boys are signed away to bonded labor at the age of 13. The contracts last until they are 30. If those boys were released today, they would have begun their work when: OJ Simpson drove his white SUV down a freeway, Bill Clinton gave his first State of the Union, and Justin Bieber was born.” And in the category about cosmetics, we learn that “Every day tens of thousands of American women buy makeup. Every day tens of thousands of Indian children mine mica, which is the little sparklies in the makeup.” Coltan, a superconductor used in electronics, is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When asked about it, a U.S. State Department official “pointed to the reporter’s smartphone and said, ‘The likelihood that one of these was not touched by a slave is pretty low.’”

At the end, the site maps the survey respondent’s results, suggesting a global network of slaves in places like China, Malaysia, Russia, India, and even the United States. For many, slavery seems like an old-world affliction—something that happens only in far-off places or long ago. But by showing us how we are complicit in slavery today—profiting from slave labor and enriching the people who exploit others—Slavery Footprint looks to make the invisible visible.