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Slavery Footprint: How Many Forced Laborers Work For You?

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SLAVERY
AP

If you're a 20-something renter who owns a laptop, a bike and a fair amount of shoes, you probably have close to 100 slaves working for you.

Slavery Footprint launched a lifestyle survey Thursday to show consumers how many forced laborers--of the 27 million worldwide--have contributed to making anything you might find in a medicine cabinet to a gym bag. The nonprofit crafted the questionnaire, which asks about your food, clothes and hobbies, after investigating what goes into producing about 400 everyday items.

The results aim to inform customers and put pressure on companies to disclose their labor practices.

"[Slavery] is in everything," Justin Dillon, chief executive of Slavery Footprint, told the Huffington Post. "It's in every product. It's not just tracing one element on the periodic table."

The nonprofit defines slavery as "anyone who is forced to work without pay, being economically exploited and is unable to walk away."

Before developing Slavery Footprint, Dillon directed the 2008 documentary on the topic, "Call + Response" and established Chain Store Reaction, a campaign that helps customers ask companies to disclose their labor procedures.

Inspired by the way Chain Store Reaction galvanized people into writing more than 100,000 letters to companies, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked the organization to develop a model akin to carbon footprinting. She wanted to calculate how connected consumers are with human trafficking.

"People have to own this issue for themselves," Dillon said. "This has to be something they think about when they go out and buy things, when they look at their kids."

But Dillon isn't interested in vilifying companies that turn a blind eye to forced labor. Rather, he hopes to enlighten consumers and encourage them to tell the brands they love to be upfront about the ways they intend to fight slavery practices.

"We decided it was smarter--more realistic--to be brand agnostic," Dillon noted. "The minute you identify one brand, and not all of its representative competitors, you've targeted someone."

To throw weight behind the education front, Slavery Footprint has partnered with Luis CdeBaca, ambassador at large for the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. CdeBaca began his career as a prosecutor for racial violence, police brutality and slavery cases.

Although CdeBaca noted that traffickers are still using the same techniques he saw them employ 25 years ago, and that it's even easier to lure workers today, he remains determined to wipe out slavery.

"I was drawn by the bravery of the survival after flat-out torture," CdeBaca told the Huffington Post of the resilience he's witnessed. "It's trying to honor the sacrifices of the people who lived through it."

While CdeBaca openly admits how daunting toppling such corruption is, he's heartened by how infuriated citizens become once they're exposed to such injustices.

CdeBaca pointed to the case of 20 deaf Mexican slaves who were indentured into selling trinkets on New York City's subways in the 90s. If they didn't meet their daily quota, they were beaten, tortured and burned.

"New Yorkers had been shocked that this was going on under their nose," CdeBaca said. "It makes it personal. It's not enough to say 'I don't buy commercial slaves. I don't have a maid locked up in my basement'."

Though no government in history has succeeded in eliminating slavery, the nonprofit is confident that igniting the conversation, between consumers and the companies they're drawn to, is the kind of open-source activism that could take down the institution.

One way the nonprofit aims to do so is through its mobile application. While shopping, customers can check in to the store and send asking if slaves were involved, in any way, in the production process. The open letter goes out to company executives and to the customer's entire Facebook and Twitter networks.

The goal is to get companies to admit that slavery is a real problem, but that they're willing to start addressing it.

"Companies are looking across social networks all day, every day to see how their brand is represented." Dillon said. "It's not about torches and pitchforks. We have to have a sustained response."

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