Gift-giving is an act of care that is deeply culturally ingrained in occasions like birthdays, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. The practice has become so second nature that most people likely don’t pause to consider where their gifts come from — and if slavery might exist in their supply chain.
The as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.” According to the most recent data from the , an estimated 21.3 people are working in conditions of forced labor on any given day. Labor trafficking exists in a wide variety of industries, including domestic work, construction, fishing, and agriculture. Agriculture and the production and processing of goods are where trafficking often intersects with the consumer products we buy for ourselves and others.
If you want to gift more ethically, here are five goods commonly connected to forced labor— and some places to buy from instead.
Coffee is one of the products most consistently connected to labor trafficking, with forced labor (including child labor) like Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Tanzania, and Vietnam. Major retailers like Starbucks, Dunkin, McDonald’s, Illy, and Nestle have opaque supply chains that have frequently been .
Because coffee has become one of the better-known problem products, shopping Fair Trade has gotten easier. Many grocery stores carry coffee stamped with a Fair Trade label, ensuring that there has been a high level of oversight. One such brand is . Another is , a coffee roaster actively committed to combating trafficking.
It’s also a great option to visit your local coffee shop that roasts their beans in-house to ask how they source their coffee. Small businesses often have a shorter supply chain with more attention to ethical practices.
Chocolate has been so well-documented as a product often produced via labor trafficking that many NGOs have risen to the task of demanding better. is one tool that empowers everyday consumers in that fight.
Specifically, almost two-thirds of the world’s chocolate originates in West Africa (according to ). Due to vulnerabilities like poverty and lack of access to education, kids in countries like Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire are often forced into work on cocoa plantations at an early age. They receive abysmal wages for grueling work while attempting to survive in living conditions analogous to modern slavery. Some evidence suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic forced a rise in the number of kids working on these plantations due to increased economic vulnerability.
As assessed by the Chocolate Scorecard’s multi-faceted system, some brands with the most human rights abuses in their supply chains include General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Godiva.
For a more ethical chocolate fix, respected Fair Trade brands include , , and . Many of these can be found on your grocery store shelves. When in doubt, just look for the Fair Trade logo!
As beautiful as flowers are, they can obscure the ugly reality of child labor in the supply chains. In particular, children might be forced to work long hours and other flowers for little to no pay. According to , on any given Valentine’s Day, you have a 1 in 12 chance of picking up flowers produced with forced labor in Colombia or Ecuador.
If you’re trying to give a loved one flowers without the baggage, your best bet is to buy from a local vendor. Farmer’s markets often play host to flower stalls. Although your choices may be limited to what’s in season, you’ll be purchasing with peace of mind.
In case local vendors aren’t an option for you, opt for a delivery vendor like , who has committed to ethical practices.
Jewelry (Diamonds and Gold)
Although diamonds and gold are classic expressions of love, for many vulnerable people, they have become symbols of servitude. like Congo often employ children who work in dangerous conditions. In India, kids cut diamonds and prepare them for sale.
Gold mines are also rife with labor trafficking in countries from Africa to South America, as documented by the As one of the world’s most historically valued commodities, it has been too easy for producers to seek low-cost production— at the risk of harm or even death to those working in mines without pay.
In a report by , jewelry brands with a particularly bad track record included Boodles, Chopard, Christ, and Harry Winston. Of the major brands surveyed, . displayed the highest commitment to ethical sourcing.
To support trafficking survivors directly with your next artisan jewelry purchase, creates pieces with that exact goal. also curates a collection of ethical gold pieces that support survivors.
Unfortunately, clothing is both necessary and often a product of labor trafficking. Cotton is a common culprit, and with , it can feel impossible to avoid. In the United States, tied closely to the transatlantic slave trade. In modern-day slavery, cotton continues to be produced by people who are vulnerable, exploited, and paid little to nothing.
Recent attention has focused on fast-fashion giants like and , who trample the rights of people in places like the in order to cut costs and maximize profits. Brick-and-mortar stores like H&M and Zara have also frequently been under fire for their shady sourcing practices.
If you want to buy someone a clothing gift, the most sustainable option is usually to thrift it. Although some of the clothes on thrift store racks may have been produced using slave labor, purchasing clothes one step removed from that process means that the companies exploiting people are not profiting. You’ll also be on the marketplace by buying garments already in circulation. In addition to local thrift stores, you can thrift online through sources like and , where you’ll be buying secondhand from real individuals.
Outstanding fair trade clothing suppliers also exist, including several who intentionally employ survivors. One such company is . Another is .