Are our 3 favourite Christmas gifts tainted by modern slavery?

LexisNexis Legal & Professional,  Business Insight Solutions, 19 December 2016

Consumers' purchasing behaviour is increasingly influenced by businesses' ethical behaviour. As Christmas is a time of celebration and this goes hand in hand with consumption, it is a good moment to look into some of the products that are at risk of being produced by people in modern slavery.

Consumers' purchasing considerations

77 per cent of respondents in emerging markets said buying ethical brands was important or very important to them. In advanced markets this is 58 per cent. These are the findings from an analysis of Trajectory's Global Foresight Survey amongst 90,000 consumers, as reported by HSBC in 2016.

"Consumers around the world are saying loud and clear that a brand's social purpose is among the factors that influence purchase decisions. This behaviour is on the rise and it provides opportunities for meaningful impact in our communities, in addition to helping to grow share for brands."
-Amy Fenton, Global leader of public development and sustainability, Nielsen

Additional recent research carried out in the UK by YouGov, suggested an even stronger response by young consumers. It came to the conclusion that 28 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds would shun any brand revealed not to treat its workers fairly.

Exploitation considerations regarding 3 Christmas favourites

Whether you are an ethical consumer or a responsible retailer, you might want to consider your buying behaviour regarding the following products:

1. Chocolate

Chocolate treats in advent calendars or nice chocolates to finish an indulging evening with festive food, Christmas is a time for chocolate.

Unfortunately, for many children working in the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast, chocolate is not a treat. As our 2013 report Dark chocolate revealed, the US State Department estimated that at least 10,000-12,000 of children working in the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast are victims of human trafficking and enslavement. A new estimate from Tulane University in 2015 is that this number has increased 10 per cent and now totals approximately 1.1 million children.

Since last year, several international chocolate companies have been hit with class action lawsuits regarding the use of forced child labour in the cocoa plantations the companies source from. CFO reported that these companies (Hershey, Mars and Nestlé) published public statements on how they eradicate slavery and human trafficking as required by the California Act on Transparency in Supply Chains. The complaints were filed by California residents, who alleged that the companies are guilty of false advertising for failing to disclose the use of child slavery on their packaging.

2. Electronics

Many people will buy an electronic gadget for one of their beloved ones around Christmas time; a tablet, kitchen appliance or speaker.Many of these electronic products or their components come from Malaysia. The country hosts more than 5,000 international businesses from 40 countries.

According to research by Verité (2014), almost one in three of the 500 workers from 200 companies in their study sample in the Malaysian electronics industry were found to be in situations of forced labour. It reports that a total of 73 per cent of workers in the study exhibited forced labour characteristics of some kind, a finding which suggests that the risk of forced labour in the industry is extremely high.

3. Wine

Many people will enjoy a glass of wine with their family Christmas dinner or during a Christmas do. It is also a good present to say thank you to your host or to put in a Christmas hamper.

The 2016 investigative film "Bitter Grapes: Slavery in the Vineyards" by Danish filmmaker Tom Heinemann, exposes the working and living conditions of workers in South African wineries. As reported by Quartz, following airing of the film in Denmark in October, several Danish supermarkets removed the country's wines from shelves. Approximately 50% of wine produced in South Africa is exported, to a range of countries across the world with Denmark, Sweden and the UK as some of the top markets.