The profit off depriving humans of their fundamental right to freedom has not been ridden from our economic and social stratosphere. In fact, slavery is more prevalent now than ever before. Its face has changed, but its purpose stays the same.

I set the scene of this series by asking what your toothpaste, underwear, and smartphone have in common, and it ain’t pretty. Here’s some sobering perspective on just how ubiquitous global exploitation is in mainstream consumerism:

That aforementioned toothpaste most likely contains sodium lauryl sulfate, which is derived from palm oil often harvested from slave-labored plantations in southeast Asia.

Considering the U.S. imports 98% of our clothing, that underwear probably made in India, Thailand, or Malaysia could have used cotton exported from Uzbekistan, where government officials draft over a million people per year, many of them children, to work in the cotton fields under threats of expulsion from jobs or school.

And your smartphone? Oh boy. It, and virtually every electronic out there, is made with the minerals tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, otherwise known as 3TG. These raw materials are found in mines across the world but most notably in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a part of the world rich in natural resources that uses its 3TG export to fund a seemingly never-ending atrocity comparable to World War II.

The process of transforming a raw material into a finished product involves a web of middlemen who handle different parts of the processing. Knowing where their materials come from is easier for small businesses to do, however the leverage they have over their suppliers isn’t as great as larger scale corporations.

A movement that’s been circulating the Bay Area but concentrates here in Oakland is the idea of bringing production back to the simple, local, and sustainable way it’s strayed from. Focusing on social and ecological injustices, The New Economy, also known as the Sharing Economy, aims to establish a marketplace where inclusivity and consideration guide progress. Oakland hosted its first Living the New Economy convergence this past October where dozens of local entrepreneurs, business owners and nonprofit representatives met to pave the path towards a less competition-based and more cooperative way of doing business.

This past June, a Deloitte study assessed the millennial generation’s (those born 1982-2004) awareness of and investment in greater social, environmental and economic impacts when choosing where to work or spend their money. The study found that 84 percent believe it is “their duty” to improve the world and 63 percent said they’d spend more money on items made in a socially responsible way.

“If consumers are aware of the issue and choose to support companies that are leaders in removing slavery from their supply chains, then it builds a conversation about values and solutions between people and businesses,” describes Kyle Buetzow, director of campaigns at Made in a Free World, an anti-slavery organization based in San Francisco.

Businesses and corporations don’t want their products attached to slavery. The same Deloitte study also surveyed 600 manufacturing and retail executives on their concern with brand identification. Sixty percent believe that deeper customer engagement is “very important” and will have a “strong positive impact in company growth.”

Moral-based incentives might not be enough to control company behavior. The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act requires all businesses making over $100 million in California to publicly display efforts to minimize their slavery footprint. However, there isn’t any consequence if they fall short on those efforts. Penalizing a company on a monetary scale could be what it’s going to take to flush supply chains clean.

Director of engagement at San Francisco-based nonprofit Not For Sale, Ethan Batstone validates that “when it comes to eco-problematic conditions, a company being affected monetarily has made a difference. Money is where it matters for a company.”

The millennial generation will comprise 75 percent of the global workplace by 2025, and their critical eye combined with strong initiative is what’s going to skyrocket social progress. Oakland’s New Economy is already plugging us in to the solutions we need to see a world without exploitation, but what about the generations to come? How can we evolve our wider-scale society into one where global awareness is the norm rather than the exception?

Providing kids with an early opportunity to learn about other cultures and the problems we face as a human race would inspire a big-picture sense of belonging and social responsibility.

“It’s very possible to address human atrocities, indignities and slavery without the graphic details. We should be able to provide our youth with appropriate access to information and have healthy conversations on injustice, self-worth and inappropriate behavior,” said Batstone.

Batstone suggests we should be having discussions around human trafficking, emphasizing underlying themes such as manipulation, self-empowerment and law enforcement. “There are ways to address the root causes without discussing the nitty-gritty.”

Effacing slavery doesn’t apply strictly to small business or corporate supply chains. It also requires a spotlight on institutionalized exploitation in the service, hospitality and agricultural industries in America today. Decriminalizing victims is especially pertinent in halting Oakland’s sex trafficking market.

Synergy among businesses, vendors, suppliers, and communities who are committed to alleviating systemic oppression is gaining momentum, but establishing an equitable economy requires a change in our personal motivation. What’s really called for is an assumption of social responsibility – engaging with our environment in a way that supports one another simply because it is the right thing to do – which is possibly the most difficult hurdle to overcome in an end to human exploitation.


For more information:

  • Invite companies to the new social network
  • A foodie’s guide to national and local restaurant ratings on exploitation
  • The Global Fund to End Slavery initiative provides a clear course of action against all forms of exploitation
  • Curious about electronic rankings in their anti-conflict mineral efforts?

About The Author

Simone writes about the currents circulating beneath mainstream, with a focus on non-profit developments and at-risk youth enrichment. Outside of freelancing for Oakland Local, she works in the foster care system of Contra Costa County and nerds out on literary magazines. Simone also spearheads the Community Voices section of OL. Contact her at

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