Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Engaging the Corporation for Change

Many people, when they first learn about human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery, are compelled to act. Some people choose to educate themselves. In the process, they usually become aware that some of the products they buy could be tainted by slave labor. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the problem. There is very little a consumer can do to know whether the shirt they buy was produced ethically.

The consumer is not powerless though, and can do something to push for slave/trafficking free products. Companies, by nature, are concerned with their public image and whether or not they will have customers. They must constantly be sure that customers are satisfied with the products the company is selling. The only way companies know their customers are unsatisfied is if customers stop coming to the store or if they tell the company that they are unsatisfied. Too often in the fight against human trafficking and slavery I hear people demonizing and boycotting companies, particularly large corporations for their labor practices, without recognizing that these companies also have the most power to change labor practices within the industry for the better.

We need to engage these companies, not shun them.
Companies are incredibly strategic. If a change will positively affect public image and thus customer flow into their stores, they likely will do it. Walmart now sells organic food because they believed it would attract more customers and because people asked for it. We need to use a similar mindset. If a company knows its customers really care about the type of labor used in the production of its products and believe it is negatively affecting their public image, it will likely begin trying to find solutions, though sometimes these solutions do not occur quickly.

There are many different ways to let companies know that you as a customer find their practices troubling and to ask the to take action. One particular method that seems to be popular right now is targeted online petition/email campaigns. These are a few of the campaigns I found and believe
could be effective in this process.

Chain Store Reaction This is sponsored by Call + Response and allows you to send emails to many major chain stores. While there is already text written for each of the stores, you can also add or delete parts of the email based on what message you want to convey. This might be advisable since some of the emails are quite generic. For example, you could indicate which of their stores you frequent or which source products you are concerned about. The website also posts information on how many emails were sent to that company and whether or not they have responded. There are 767 companies listed on the website.

Chocolate Compa
Here you can learn
about the horrific working/living conditions on the cocoa farms of West Africa. Additionally, you can petition companies such as Hershey’s and Mars to take action against these abuses.

Electronic Comp
This site targets
the 21 largest electronics companies and urges them to take serious action against conflict materials, which are often used in electronics. The conflict materials are usually obtained at great cost. Rape, war, and forced labor have surrounded the procurement of these materials. Tell companies you will buy their products once the conflict material free versions are available.


This particular petition is directed towards members of the Kimberley Process which recently decided not to ban diamonds from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond field despite finding severe human rights violations including forced labor of adults and children. This is due to the fact that human rights violations alone are not enough to ban diamonds from a particular country. This petitions asks that this criteria be changed. There are many hurdles companies face in ensuring trafficked or enslaved labor is not in their supply chains. While these challenges are real, we need to make clear to these companies that their customers care. Until they know we care and are serious about this issue, it is likely that little will be done to ensure these companies’ supply chains are free of tainted labor.

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