Do you know your toddler’s "slave footprint"? Mine has 20 slaves
Your toddler's "slave footprint" – how many modern-day slaves have been used to produce those diapers, toys, and accessories – can be calculated on a new human trafficking website.
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Now, it’s easy to get hyperbolic about the idea of modern day slavery, and there’s a lot of hype about many of the terms surrounding global forced labor issues. (Our cover story zooms in on the way this sensationalism has impacted the fight against sex trafficking.) There are some experts who will quibble over what is “slavery” and what is a really horrible working situation.Skip to next paragraph
is a longtime Monitor correspondent. She lives in Andover, Mass. with her husband, her two young daughters, a South African Labrador retriever and an imperialist cat..
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But as a parent, it shouldn’t be much comfort to think that Baby’s favorite stuffed animal was made by a toiling 10-year-old girl far away in a dangerous and abusive sweatshop, even if that girl is not officially a “slave.”
Although the Slavery Footprint website does not target specific brands, news stories over the past couple of years have reported about the child labor behind some of American kids’ most popular brands, such as Mattel, Fisher-Price, and Disney. (The brands involved usually say they were unaware of the conditions at their subcontracting factories and always vow to eliminate child labor from their business.)
Critics say that as long as children’s toy and clothing and diaper manufacturing takes place in countries with labor abuse records, our cuddly and cute products will inevitably be tainted. Baby will have a slave footprint.
So what to do?
The answer I've heard regularly is that parents can seek out ethical companies, those that sell sustainably sourced wooden blocks, for instance, or fair trade certified stuffed animals. These products are inevitably more expensive, but retailers count on buyers' desire to lower that slavery footprint as much as possible.
This is a fine approach. But I’d venture that another, perhaps healthier, reaction to the slavery footprint is to simply have less stuff.
The world’s system of forced labor, slavery, debt bondage, trafficking – all of these human rights abuses that involve the desperate living and work conditions of others – goes hand in hand with Americans’ desire to consume. A pattern of consumption, I might add, that studies have shown does us very little good.
We wrote a piece not long ago about a new book, “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century,” by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Connecticut College, which looks not only at how Americans today have more things than ever before, but at how the sheer number of objects clutter our homes and stresses out our families.
Add this to the realization that little kids are just as happy – happier, often – with kitchen utensils or ice cubes or the objects they find in the yard or park than they are with the plastic (or even sustainable-helping-the-rainforest-wooden) toys showered upon them, and it seems like there’s a pretty easy way to lower your household’s slavery footprint.
Is this the right way to do it? I mean, will impoverished children across the world be better off if the demand for their products decreases? I’m sure that, like almost every question in this topic area, is the subject of much debate.
But in the meantime, it’s worth considering whether you should give your kids less.
As counter-cultural as that may be in today's US, it might well be better for the world.