Products of slavery shipped into our living rooms

When we think of slavery, we tend to picture the horrors of historical slavery. We imagine people in chains being bought, sold and owned as property in the distant past. 

However, the soccer World Cup in Qatar has exposed how the products of slavery are still and all too often shipped directly into our homes. Since Qatar won the rights to host the world’s most-watched sporting event, constructing the stadiums that will feature the world’s best players has come at the expense of the exploitation of Qatar’s migrant workers. 

Upon arriving in the Middle East, migrant construction workers often have their passports, visas and identity documents confiscated by their employers, preventing their return home until they receive their employer’s permission. After paying exorbitant recruitment fees to get work contracts, these workers are reportedly paid less than $3 an hour. Labour is conducted in the dangerous Qatari heat under alarming time pressures and on hazardous construction sites. 

Recently, a top Qatari official conceded that as many as five hundred workers have died in the lead-up to the World Cup.

However, some international organisations believe the actual figure could be up to ten times more than that. Meanwhile, the World Cup is expected to make billions in revenue for FIFA, the governing body for international soccer. 

And the fruits of modern slavery extend beyond just one soccer tournament. 

The exploitation of workers in Qatar is just one example of modern slavery, including human trafficking, forced labour, servitude, debt bondage, deceptive recruiting and forced marriage. An estimated 50 million people worldwide have been forced into modern slavery practices that Pope Francis described as a “crime against humanity”, affecting “the poorest and the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.” 

Products made by victims of modern slavery line Australian shopping centres every day. The massive companies that sell us everything from our food to our mobile phones have been repeatedly found to be making their products through the exploitation of workers in poorer countries.

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One response has been to try to force companies to be more transparent with how their products are made. Australia was one of the first countries in the world to put in place laws that require companies and organisations to prepare a report on how they identify potential links to modern slavery in their supply chains and what they are doing to avoid them.  

These reports are placed on a database that is accessible to the public called the Modern Slavery Statements Register. The laws force large companies to be accountable with where they source their products, pressuring them to influence their suppliers to provide better conditions for workers. 

However, reviews conducted by leading Australian institutes have uncovered sloppy work from several Australian organisations in their reports, with most companies failing to adequately identify modern slavery risks in their supply chains. One review conducted by the International Justice Mission in April concluded that companies were not gathering sufficient information or scratching below the surface of their supply chains. Instead, in several of these statements, companies often had more to say about themselves with sweeping statements about their policies at the expense of practical risk assessments and action plans.  

However, it is not all unwelcome news. The reviews into the current modern slavery laws are a fantastic resource for consumers who want to make informed decisions about what companies they want to buy from. It is clear that several companies have made substantial efforts to combat modern slavery and ensure decent conditions in making their products.

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The World Cup has reminded many that slavery and exploitation still thrives in the twenty-first century. But we should never forget that traces of modern slavery exist in nearly every industry that Australians buy from. It is up to us in a rich country like Australia to make a difference for our most vulnerable brothers and sisters who are trapped in modern slavery. 

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