How Many Slaves Are Working For You?

A new website and mobile app looks at your purchases and determines the amount of forced labor that’s gone into everything you own. The number may surprise you.

It’s not easy to be a socially responsible consumer. Even if you buy mostly local products and diligently keep track of corporate environmental footprints, you may still be leaving a trail of slaves in your wake. After all, who do you think is digging up the minerals in your smartphone or picking the cotton for your T-shirts? Slavery Footprint, a new website and mobile app that launched today (the 149th anniversary of the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation) can tell you approximately how many slaves have pitched in to make the goods you enjoy on a daily basis.

The site, created in a collaboration between anti-slavery nonprofit Call + Response and the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, uses a complex algorithm to calculate how many slaves work for you based on a number of questions, including how much jewelry you own, whether you’re a gadget geek, what’s in your medicine cabinet, and even whether you’ve paid for sex (you’ll just have to check out the site to get the details on that one).

After going through the process, I discovered that there are 101 slaves toiling away for me. That is actually a fairly low number, according to Justin Dillon of Call + Response. "The issue seems far away but the truth is you can’t leave your home in the morning without touching something that was made with slavery," he says. In this case, a slave—or forced laborer—is defined as "anyone who is forced to work without pay, being economically exploited, and is unable to walk away."

Call + Response obviously can’t take into account the brand name of every product in your home, but the Slavery Footprint algorithm is still pretty detailed—it uses information from the Department of Labor, Department of State, and Transparency International, among other organizations.

But Dillon says the point isn’t to make people ashamed of our consumer culture. "I didn’t want to create another bummer calculator that only spits out bad news," he says. "I wanted to see how we can help individuals use their lifestyles to end this."

So in addition to the Slavery Footprint site, Call + Response is also offering an app that lets people check in to storefronts (a la Foursquare) to let them know that they want slavery-free products. The app also allows people to directly send letters to over 1,000 brands to demand an end to slavery in their products—and then share the companies’ responses to create a crowdsourced database. By taking these actions, users receive Free World Points, which Dillon likens to carbon offsets.

The Free World Points don’t exactly take away from the seriousness of the slavery problem, but they do serve as proof that users are at least trying to make a difference. "Success for us means that we’ve shifted the conversation in the marketplace a little more that makes it easier for corporations to engage in [the slavery issue] in a substantive manner," says Dillon.

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  • Jack

    After reading your definition of a slave, it seems that australia has its own. They are called farmers.

  • Emeraldearth5

    Don't be afraid or offended to call it what it is. Conscienceness of our existance is essential. Love and peace, and hope that we will look for a better way.

  • YouRMySunshine

    Interesting article indeed. What I'm most fascinated by though are individuals who are so committed to uphold the rights of all human beings, especially when it likely means they must re-evaluate their own choices and move to change their own personal buying habits as consumers.

    Using social media and technology in ways to educate and inspire others to not only become aware of issues - but to take a stand and advocate against human disrespect and disregard is awesome, innovative and of integrity. I applaud the efforts of Call+Response.

    If one is not aware of the facts about the prevalence of slavery in the 21st century - yes here in America, yes all around the world - this is a pretty easy way to become personally enlightened. And in enlightenment comes a gift with potentially tremendous impact.

    When individuals become enlightened or more aware - it also becomes more challenging to out and out ignore the fact that someone has and is paying a mighty high price (their life) for all of us to have the conveniences and comforts many of us enjoy, myself included. The message I hear is a "Call to Action." It reinforces the message that I can. I can vote with my vote, my voice, my feet and my money. I can make a difference - and so can you.

    Thank you Ariel Schwartz and Fast Company for elevating and bringing light to this very important and devastating human issue.

  • Jeanne-Elise M Heydecker

    If you'd like more information on human trafficking and its effects here in the US and around the world, I encourage you to watch a documentary called "Not My Life" (www.notmylife.org). I watched it on CNN during a trip to Myanmar of all places and it was startling and effective. I've changed my buying habits, consume far less and actively question manufacturers on their sourcing and labor methods overseas. It's well worth the time spent.

  • Nettiebell7842

    Interesting comments.  I read the article and found it interesting as well.  Seems to promote anti-slavery attitude.  Not sure why the article or the use of slavery in it offensive states plainly the apps to make consumers conscience of it. 

  • sickened

    Are the two comments previously posted serious?!?!?! 

    1) How are you offended by their use of the word slave in this context?  Go look up the word in a dictionary!  Then, read the article again.  No need to be personally offended by the word.

    2) What does the fact you are white and from the south have anything to do with the awareness of this social justice issue this article focuses on? NOTHING!                                                       

    I could be wrong, but based on your comment, I assume your current geographical location and lack of education (due to a poor system and/or lack of effort on your part)  are the reason you need to work on proper grammar.

  • aturbocat

    You know this site is going to get all kinds of negetive talk because of the word SLAVE or SLAVES but it dont have an effect on me either way i'm white and from the south, I say FREEDOM of speech, just like MLK said freedom from slavery  .... LMAO


  • Tcuff1

    So I take it that you will continue to laugh your A off despite the fact that people of all colors, even children, are being kidnapped, raped, abused and forced to create the items you buy for enjoyment.
    You are right about one thing ~ Information like this is useless to us unless we do something about it. I'm going to use the info. to write articles for a newsletter that will reach about 38 different churches. I'll write my elected officials including the president and those who are running for the office. I'll present or have someone more informed than I to present a program to my church and others and invite anyone who wishes to attend. I will present them with plans of actions and get them started on it that day. That is just the beginning of what I'm going to do. I pray that many others will take action too. Don't let these atrocities continue.!

  • Marsack57

    DUDE this survey thing seems like a lot of work! Can i have my slaves do it for me!