We consume or use products that are likely tainted by modern slavery every day. From gadgets to clothing, fish, cocoa, and cane sugar, it is almost impossible to avoid.
So why have we, as consumers, largely ignored or avoided feeling guilty for this?
That is the subject of new research from Michal Carrington from University of Melbourne, Andreas Chatzidakis of Royal Holloway, and Deidre Shaw at University of Glasgow.
They ask: “What of the responsibility of consumers to care about how a product was made, rather than choosing the cheapest product, no questions asked?”
Writing in The Conversation, they point to coping strategies used by consumers::
Age Restrictions: One of our interviewees explained how she empathised with children who were exploited, but not necessarily adults. A “grown man”, she told us, had “other options”. Even if an adult was working for less than the minimum wage, she said, “they are earning a bit of money, they’re happy with that […] so I don’t classify it as modern slavery”.
Blame their culture: One participant expressed it like this: “if a sweatshop factory is working within the rules and regulations of its host country,” he said, “then by virtue of the ethics of that country it is not morally wrong.”
Somehow they deserve it: One interviewee blamed modern slaves for not working hard enough to avoid being exploited. “They have the opportunity to go to school and to get a proper job,” she said. “If they don’t take it, it’s their choice.
We’re all slaves, really: We can also trivialise the experience of slavery by suggesting, for example, that we ourselves are “enslaved” (for example to our job, or to technology), or that the working conditions of some slaves aren’t that bad.
So what can we do about this? How do we stop shrugging off the guilt to the point that “where we can no longer take a deny-all-knowledge approach?”
For the team of researchers, that answer is to be determined, but the first step is to admit and expose justifications in our heads — the “neutralisations to shut down moral feeling.”
Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.