Ending modern slavery by 2030—the year targeted by the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals—would require the freeing of more than 10,000 people a day. Although modern slavery is seen as most widespread among emerging countries, it’s an issue in many developed countries, too.
How pervasive is this social evil, and how challenging is the battle for investors to surface and address it? A simple trip to the store tells the tale of how easy it is for ordinary consumers to come into contact with products made by slave labor, 2 and how their purchasing decisions can make them unwitting beneficiaries of a crime.
Most people drive to the store, and, depending on their car’s make and model, could face connections to modern slavery as soon as they slide behind the steering wheel. At least four auto manufacturers—two from the US, one from Europe and another from Japan—have used Brazilian pig iron to make car doors. The pig iron supply chain starts with burning hardwood to make charcoal. In many cases, trees are cut down illegally to source the wood, and the charcoal is made by slave labor from camps in the Brazilian rainforest. 3
1 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, ILO and Walk Free Foundation, 2017.
2 Martijn Boersma and Justine Nolan, Addressing Modern Slavery (Randwick, Australia: UNSW Press, 2019).
3 Marcy Murninghan, “Pig Iron and Modern Slavery,” The Murninghan Post (August 12, 2010), http://murninghanpost.com/2010/08/12/pig-iron-and-modern-slavery.