What is slavery?

Slavery is the condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised, including where such a condition results from a debt or contract made by the person. Slavery is a crime against humanity.

Slavery and exploitative labour practices can look many different ways today and include; human trafficking, forced labour, bonded labour, child labour, and exploitative working/employment conditions.

I thought slavery was illegal – why are we still talking about it?

Yes, slavery. Yes, it’s illegal everywhere. Does that mean it’s gone – absolutely not! More people work now in slavery than have at any time in human history. Take a moment to breath that in, it’s massive!  By any estimate, tens of millions of people around the world are in modern slavery.

You see, slavery never went away; it just changed form – thanks to a phenomenon called ‘exploitation creep’. It became something that happens FOR companies, but often not within companies. It is something that 80% of businesses know is happening, but is below the radars of consumers, investors and governments.

Companies themselves say it is something they cannot control. Their sub-contractors are at fault. Maybe so. Ultimately the person selling you a t-shirt, though, is responsible for the way it is made, right? A person selling you fish is responsible for the way it was caught. There can be no getting away from that simple fact; you sell something, you stand behind everything to do with its making.

Slavefreetrade is about changing the way businesses think about slavery in their supply chains. We aim to bring the issue of slavery in supply chains to the front of the way companies manage their supply chains instead of being an afterthought; to rebalance the way companies have been distancing themselves from their own risks and responsibilities. We aim to have companies stand behind the products they sell.

And we aim to do this through you, and your buying choices.

Your choice is everything.

If a company uses slave labour, and yóu choose not to buy their things, they will stop using slaves to make their stuff.

If you don’t want to buy products that are made by slaves, then stop buying them. We know that at the moment it’s pretty tricky to work out what’s made with slaves and what’s not.  We’ll help you with that.

The minute we start taking responsibility and spending our money wisely, every company is going to know that we have woken up and are making our choices known. Governments won’t make these changes for us, and won’t change our choices for us.

It comes down to us.

It comes down to you.

No company will continue a practice or a product that you, the consumer, will not buy. It is vital to understand and remember this because it gives you the power to ultimately change the world you live in.

Companies are extremely sensitive about you buying their products because, if you don’t buy their things, they go out of business. That is not something any company is willing to consider. And by choosing to spend your money wisely, you can promote the business of those companies that do business in the ways that you want them to.

The missing piece now is information: how do you know when you walk into a shop that the t-shirt in front of you is NOT made by slaves? After all, more than 80% of the things we buy carry the risk of slavery.

Well, this is the very real reason we are here today. We are going to put a label on it to tell you which products are NOT made by slaves. Our vision is that by Christmas 2017, you will be able to do your Christmas shopping for gifts that are certified independently by us – not by the company selling you the thing – to be slave-free.

At slavefreetrade, we imagine a world where workers are paid a fair wage for a fair day’s work, where their health and safety is a given, where children are not drafted to work away in dirty, dangerous, and degrading jobs.

If you can imagine this world too, then join us.

slavefreetrade. Because our choices make a difference.

How many people are enslaved?

Estimates on the numbers of people in modern slavery vary; anywhere from 20 million to 60 milion. We prefer to let policy makers and academics argue over whether there are 20 million or 60 million modern-day slaves.

What we can all agree is that there are tens of millions in modern slavery. And beyond such numbers, what matters to us when it comes down to it, is that one slave is one too many.

How did slavefreetrade begin?

slavefreetrade was born of the frustration about the global focus on cutting off the supply of slaves which has for decades, and will forever, be futile. Where there is a demand for slave labour, someone will find a way to supply it.  So, slavefreetrade was conceived to flip the focus to instead empower consumers, investors, suppliers, and insurers to demand slave-free products.

What does slavefreetrade do?

slavefreetrade is a Geneva-based not-for-profit association which vision is to free products and services globally from all forms of enslaved and exploited labour. Our mission is to ‘clean up’ company supply chains, audit them against the highest global standards in order to certify products and services as ‘slave-free’.

Harnessing the expertise of governments, related non-government entities, academia and leaders in corporate responsibility, slavefreetrade will drive awareness among stakeholders about modern day slavery prevalent within the overwhelming majority of supply chains.

This awareness will empower demand for slave-free products by consumers, investors and governments.

How is slavefreetrade different to FairTrade?

FairTrade works with farmers and producers to ensure them a fair price for their products and a fair wage for their work.

While this also extends to ensuring fair labor conditions, fair prices, community development and environmental sustainability, its audit process does not extend to testing each tier of a company’s supply chain to check whether there are any incidents of slavery or exploitative practices.

slavefreetrade works with companies to clean up and audit their supply chains. We also work with consumers, investors and governments to demand slave-free products.

Are slave free products more expensive?

Mostly not. One reason for this is that goods made with slaves or people whose labour is exploited bear additional costs not associated with legitimate labour.

Those costs include trafficking costs; the costs involved in the sale of people (often a chain of sales); and accommodation, food and basic amenities provided to slaves in order that they remain capable of working. Moreover, the profits of slavers are often not passed up to the point of sale, but are absorbed only as profits of that lower level supplier or producer.

The cost of the slave-free and the slave-made product to the end-buyer is often the same; it just depends how much the seller wants to pass the costs of ‘keeping it clean’ onto you the consumer.

Who benefits from slavefreetrade?

We all benefit! First, by reducing the demand for products made by slaves or others who have been exploited, we make it less profitable for traffickers and exploiters to do what they do. As a result, people currently in these terrible situations will be unshackled.

Second, consumers benefit from being able to know the provenance of the goods they are buying to be sure they are not funding slavery and exploitative practices. On top of that advantage, consumers can also be quite sure that slave-free products are also better quality than slave-made.

Third, suppliers benefit by being able to up-sell their products as clean; it provides them a competitive advantage by being independently confirmed as slave-free. If their buyers are in markets that have anti-slavery legislation, such as the UK, this is an additional huge plus.

Fourth, investors benefit from knowing which companies are safe for them to invest. Given the ILO estimates that up to 80% of products have slavery in their supply chains, or there is a risk of slavery in their supply chains, there is a huge reputational risk inherent in investing in companies that are not certified to be slave-free. slavefreetrade provides that assurance to investors who can then make financially safer, and more ethically motivated, investments. Investors who prefer either for security or conscience to invest in clean companies, can.

Fifth, insurers…..

Will slavefreetrade force slavery further underground?

slavefreetrade’s audit process is exacting, thorough, deep and broad. And our on-going monitoring compact with suppliers and producers means we are always watching certified producers to make sure the chain stays clean. The dichotomy between products that are certified slave-free and those that are not means that any product not certified as slave-free will, over time, become less commercially viable.

While we recognise that a certain type of consumer doesn’t care about the human behind the product, we are willing to bet that most do, and that the demand for those products will shrink until they become commercially unsustainable and untenable.  Then, they will either clean up their supply chains to join the throng of certified  slave-free companies, or they will cease to exist.

Why don’t all companies do this?

There are many reasons companies fail to have strong control over their supply chains. 80% of western businesses admit it is likely that have slavery in their supply chains. But the first and leading reason businesses don’t clean out their supply chains is that they don’t know they have slavery. Most often they don’t know simply because they choose not to look. Traditional business practice over the last 50-100 years has been to ‘downstream’ risk and responsibility; not taking responsibility for what goes on down the supply chain. What you don’t see, you don’t have to take responsibility for, right? Not anymore. Consumers overwhelmingly don’t want that. Which means ultimately businesses won’t.

There is also a wide range of downstream supplier and producer practices and behaviours that make this ‘system’ of wilful blindness work, include ghosting of slave workers between audits, sub-contracting, fraud and deception, and the making of out and out false statements.

Some companies point to the cost of closely controlling their supply chain. Yet the cost of audit, compared to the cost of exposure, not to mention the human cost of having slavery in supply chains, is miniscule. Moreover, slave-made products are often inferior in quality to slave-free; happy workers do better work.

Some companies simply don’t mind what goes on in their supply chains. In the same way we estimate around a third of consumers will still buy slave-made products when given the choice to buy a slave-free one (yes, such people exist) so some companies will simply continue not to care because it suits them to turn a blind eye.

Another reason is that many companies like to play a ‘corporate responsibility’ marketing strategy that says they are working to clean up their supply chains, and there is a great deal of self-congratulations and promotion around it, but in fact is likely being done without any kind of independent verification. Corruption in audits – and falsehood in presenting those results to the public – is a widespread problem.

What does the slavefreetrade symbol represent?

slavefreetrade.org’s logo is trademarked and will be the instantly recognisable symbol on goods and service, investment vehicles, and companies. The logo represents the victim’s hand at the centre of our efforts, the leaf representing slavery’s agricultural historical context, and the hand in front of the leaf to put the person before the product, and rendered in shades of blue to signal liberation and hope.

How does slavefreetrade certification work?

slavefreetrade’s certification involves the following process:

  1. A company thinks they might have slavery in their supply chain and contacts slavefreetrade for help. Or a supplier or producer wants to be certified so they can sell to buyers who require this.
  2. slavefreetrade’s team will assist the company to conduct a comprehensive audit of its supply chain, or conduct the audit of the supplier/producer.
  3. Where the audit exposes incidents of slavery and/or exploitative labour practices, slavefreetrade will assist the company to ‘clean’ its supply chain.
  4. When the supply chain is clean, slavefreetrade will issue a licence to the company for the product or products whose supply chains have been audited. The license entitles the company to use slavefreetrade’s certification label on that product, or those products.
  5. slavefreetrade will then conduct both annual re-verification, as well as periodic spot-checks on that company’s supply chains, provide a means of anonymous whistleblowing to ensure it is informed of any unacceptable labour practices within the company and supply chain for the certified product/s. Producers certified by us enter into a compact to allow their workers and us to remain in touch.
What are the slavefreetrade standards?

slavefreetrade’s standards are built on a programme code of eight foundational principles. The principles comprise: no child labour, safe working environment, compliance with related law, no forced labour, fair income and work hours, fair treatment in the workplace, freedom of association

I need information for a research project. Can you help me?

Sure thing! Check out our free resources and blogs, you may find what you need there. If not, send us an email and we’ll give you all the help we can.

Slavefreetrade products

In which countries can producers become slavefreetrade certified?


How can we become a slavefreetrade producer?

Contact us and we will go through the whole process with you.

Can I become a slavefreetrade certifier?
How can we import products from slavefreetrade certified producer groups?

We maintain a registry of all certified suppliers and producers. Consult our database to find a certified slave-free supplier for your business.

How can I get the slavefreetrade certification for my products?

slavefreetrade will conduct a thorough audit of the supply chains for all your products.  If our auditors find that you comply with the exacting standards within our Programme Code, we will grant you a licence to use our slavefreetrade label.

How can I sell slavefreetrade products in my shop?

If your products comply with the exacting standards within our Programme Code, we will grant you a licence to use our slavefreetrade label. The label can be placed on all the products we have certified and sold in the same way as you normally sell your products.

Why are there not more types of slavefreetrade products?

We’re a growing movement. There is a lot more to be done to empower consumers, investors and governments to demand slave-free products.  Get involved to support our work and increase the types of slavefreetrade products available.

Are slavefreetrade Products also FairTrade and/or organic?

The two are not the same. However, we share the same ethos about treating people fairly and within the law. The FairTrade certification includes reference to there being no forced labour in a products’ supply chain.

The audit process applicable to Fair Trade certified products is however framed to focus on specific products only, not entire businesses, and focuses on the fair price and wage obtained through product markup. The slavery context is much broader and deeper and requires the application of our specific and dedicated certification certification framework to investigate the supply chain.

Where can we buy slavefreetrade labelled products?
You can buy slavefreetrade certified products anywhere.
Why do some products claim to be slavery-free but do not carry the slavefreetrade symbol?

Many companies claim their supply chains are clean of modern slavery. But if the supply chain is not audited to our exacting standards, we cannot verify those claims. If you trust a company that advertises slave-free but will not have their claims assessed by an honest 3rd party, you need to ask yourself if their claim is well-founded.

What is social labelling?

In the context of slavefreetrade, social labelling is the process of labelling a product as free of slavery and exploitative labour practices. This label will only be provided when a particular product and its supply chain have successfully passed a rigorous audit process.

This process is continuous and the licence for the label can be removed at any time for breach or fraud. The licence for the label will be revoked if, through  slavefreetrade’s ongoing audit process, we determine that slavery and/or other exploitative labour practices are occurring at any point in the product or service’s supply chain.

How does social labelling work?

Social labels are words and symbols associated with products or organisations which inform the public about the content, production and/or provenance of the product or service.  slavefreetrade’s social label will inform the public that a particular product or service and its supply chain have successfully passed a rigorous audit process.

As a result, slavefreetrade’s social label will be licensed to the company to use on those product/s and/or service/s. The licence will be removed immediately if, through slavefreetrade’s ongoing audit process, we determine that slavery and/or other exploitative labour practices are occurring at any point in the product or service’s supply chain.

The mechanisms behind social labelling are twofold:

  1. The Window effect: They inform the consumer about how the product was or was not produced, and inform investors about how the company behaves in its production – this is called the ‘window’ effect.
  2. The Mirror effect: They function as a ‘mirror’ for the consumer and investor in securing the benefits of self-expression and positive social identity.

In economic terms, social labels change consumption and investment patterns by shifting consumers’ and investors’ balance of costs and benefits of finding, buying, investing in, and using goods and services.

What is ethical consumerism?

Consumers increasingly want to buy products produced under conditions where minimum standards of human rights for workers in global supply chains are achieved. A large class of investors want to invest in companies that provide those minimum standards of human rights for workers in their supply chains.

Consumers are confused about what products are ethical than others and in what ways. It is simply not possible, without immediately digestible information contained in on-shelf labelling, for consumers to be able to choose products where people’s human and employment rights have been respected.

Companies are not clear how best to move ‘ethical consumerism’ from its current negative focus to one that embraces ‘positive choice’. Much work of companies in corporate social responsibility ends up in annual reports, or on dedicated but largely unvisited web pages of those companies. The consumers very often do not get to see what companies are doing to meet human rights standards for workers.

Governments and international institutions are unsure as to what interventions are feasible let alone effective. They can introduce legislation, but enforcement is serious limitation.

The answer to each of these quandaries is social labelling.

A social label such as slavefreetrade ™ is a cycle of influence and information. Our labels inform consumers, investors, suppliers, and insurers about companies that share their values. Those groups act to direct their consumption and investment to those companies that share their values. The companies in turn ensure workers are demonstrably treated in line with those values. Those workers provide continuing feedback to slavefreetrade on their working conditions to ensure the labels’ terms are upheld.

Can you certify recycled goods?

Yes we can.  We will never know the provenance of a recycled good. So, we give it a clean slate when it enters the company intending to recycle it.  Then, we track and assess whether the rights and treatment of the people who worked with that good, during the recycling process to check whether the end product satisfies our standards to be certified slave-free.

What is the timetable for having slavefreetrade ™ products on shelves?
We aim for consumers to be able to consciously choose to buy slave-free products by Christmas 2017.
What are we selling?
Hope. Liberation. Abolition, Finally.
How do we secure broader impact?

We do not need to secure our label on all goods and services. There is an innate multiplier effect in social labelling. While we impact directly on participating companies – our partners – there are many broader impacts both on…

a) non-participating companies, and b) shifting or reinforcing public policy. FairTrade labels, for example directly benefit a relatively small number of producers, but have influenced the development of ‘ethical trade’ in the mainstream business community.

How can I help?

There are a number of ways well-intentioned and like-minded people can help…

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