India and China have several million people trapped in modern day slavery (which may take different forms eg debt bondage, abduction or forced labour). The western world is also not immune and has uncovered forms of entrapped labour in recent times.

If one moves just slightly away from what might be considered true slavery one can find many modern forms of employing labour that do not allow the individual much freedom when “choosing!” to work. In the factory or working environment the terms maybe quite restrictive in many ways eg punitive piece rates, withholding of wages, zero hour contracts or poor working conditions with no compensation. It is now common to see workers shipped into tanneries, who are imported from countries where wages are low or work opportunities are very hard to find. These people often live in poor conditions, several people to a room with extended periods away from home – working for less money than indigenous workers would be paid. Also in some Asian countries many workers are required to live close to the factories, in dormitories, six people to a room. These workers live away from home for months on end in conditions that western people would find totally unacceptable. Do these workers choose this freely? – or is there simply no choice. Work under these conditions or don’t work!

Price pressure

Why is this happening? The answer is very simple, to keep costs down. All the time producers of goods and materials are under pressure to reduce costs and constantly meet arbitrarily set “price points”. We need to be careful in the tanning sector that we do not let the pursuance of lower and lower prices drive us towards treating our work force like modern day slaves. Working in a tannery is often hard work, with staff enduring difficult conditions to make the product we sell. But we should always treat our workforce as human beings and recognise that they too have a life. Taking away their freedom or enforcing harsh living conditions to ensure that a pair of trainers costs less than $X, is not acceptable in the world today.

The Toggler