The 150th anniversary of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was recognized, as the Not For Sale World Tour educated Whitworth students about the realities of modern day slavery and the impact that students can have on ending it, Sept. 22. One of the topics for the workshop was Free2Work. Free2Work is a website that provides consumers with information on how forced and child labor is used to make the brands and products they love.
Ethan Batstone, campaign coordinator of the Not for Sale Campaign, said many products people buy have been produced through the exploitation of men, women and children.
“Every product has a story,” he said.
A number of companies, knowingly or not, are connected to human exploitation and slavery somewhere along their supply chain, Batstone said. The Not For Sale and Free2Work programs are working to bring transparency to those issues.
“We have a direct responsibility. In our choices there is a cost involved that affects the lives of others,” Batstone said.
The Free2Work website analyzes company efforts to end exploitative practices in their supply chain by rating them in four main categories: policies, monitoring, transparency and worker rights. Free2Work informs consumers and allows them to make educated purchasing decisions.
“I don’t want to support a company that makes money from slave labor. I would go buy local produce; I would go to a Fair Trade market,” sophomore Hannah Gamiel said.
Free2Work assigns companies a letter grade based on those four categories. For example, both The North Face and Vans received an overall grade of C+. The breakdown was the same for each with a B in policies, B- in transparency, B in monitoring and D- in worker rights.
The goal, however, is not to punish companies for their practices, but rather show them ways to improve, Batstone said.
“We have to stop demonizing companies and wagging our fingers at them without providing solutions for them,” Batsone said.
Free2Work shows companies ways that they can stop exploitation in their supply chains.
This issue is closer to home than most people think: 30 percent of America’s cotton comes from Uzbekistan, which is the third-largest producer of cotton in the world, Batstone said. The government of Uzbekistan uses state-controlled forced labor and child labor to meet cotton quotas, according to cottoncampaign.org.
School teachers in Uzbekistan are ordered to close schools and enforce quotas. People are threatened, activists are detained and tortured, and international monitors are not allowed in the country, according to cottoncampaign.
The issue is not confined to Uzbekistan, however.
There are 27-30 million people are enslaved today and 200,000 of those are in the United States, Batstone said. This exploitation includes sexual, forced labor, child labor, child soldiers and any other type of bondage that removes a person’s freedom for the financial gain of someone else, he said.
However, there is a way that can people can be proactive.
Free2Work has an application for the iPhone and Android that scans the barcode of an item and will show the letter grade for the maker of that product. When the app is used to make a purchasing decision, the company will be tagged on Facebook and Tweeted at in order to inform them why or why not a purchase was made.
Sophomore Bethany Heim, treasurer of the International Justice Mission club at Whitworth, said that the Free2Work app makes her stop and think about her purchases.
“Clothing is really hard for me. When something is cute, you want it, but you don’t think about how it’s made,” Heim said. “I’ve started going to thrift stores and buying secondhand. Differentiating between a need and a want helps, too.”
World Market on Division street in Spokane has fair trade options. However, higher prices of fair trade products may be an issue, Gamiel said.
“It is concerning for a college student, but I think it’s worth it in the long run. Every person makes a difference,” Gamiel said.
Heim had a personal experience in South Africa and Swaziland that sparked her interest in the cause, she said.
“I felt angry; not an ‘I want to punch a wall’ angry, but an ‘I want to change this’ angry,” Heim said.
Not For Sale aspires to eventually make the grading system for companies a law that must be complied with, Batstone said.
Kendra Stubbs Staff Writer
Contact Kendra Stubbs at email@example.com.