What is the Slavery Footprint of Your Kitchen?

Up until recently, I naively believed that slavery was a thing of the past, something that was wiped off the face of the planet some time in the last century. Then I started hearing about the tomato pickers in Florida that were virtually slaves, earning pennies a day and chained to their beds at night. I was shocked and appalled when I read this report and vowed to not participate in this by not buying food and other items created by slavery. Which of course is much easier said then done, as it's not always possible to trace the 'slavery footprint' of many items.

Now the non-profit organization Call & Response has developed a way to help us make better choices by determining our slavery footprint with an online survey and phone app.

Although they represent a smaller percentage of the world population than in the past, today there are more slaves on the planet -- an estimated 27 million people -- than ever before in the history of humankind. If you eat fish or cook with cast iron cookware, then you may have as many as 7.7 slaves working for you.

As a way to bring awareness to this issue and help educate people, Call & Response has created a Slavery Footprint website to help us determine just how much slavery is involved in our lifestyle and consumer choices. They have developed an on-line quiz you can take to determine your slavery footprint, as well as a smart phone app that will help you when purchasing items in the store.

Using rigorous research and data analysis, Slavery Footprint estimated the total number of forced laborers likely to have been involved in the production of more than 450 products - from cars (9 slaves), laptops (3.4 slaves), and smart phones (3.2 slaves) to diapers (1.9 slaves), cotton t-shirts (0.9 slaves) and oranges (0.1 slaves).

I found the survey informative, if a little simplistic. It would be a great thing to do in a classroom or with your children at home. That said, I'm glad that there are organizations out there helping us to combat this horrible situation and applaud any effort to bring awareness to this issue. The purpose of the Slavery Footprint is to inform and encourage consumers to ask their favorite brands to investigate their supply chains for possible forced labor situations. They do not name or target brands.

There's a lot that can be done once some light has been shed on a forced labor situation, such as the code of conduct that will be enacted this season in Florida, calling for zero tolerance of forced and child labor for farm workers. The code will cover about 90% of the industry and is a result of a farm workers association, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, working with a Florida farmers trade association with the goal to end human trafficking in their industry.

• To take the Slavery Footprint survey and get more information on their app, visit their website.

For more information on modern day slavery see:
CNN's Freedom Project
Your Tomatoes' Possible Ties to Slavery (from CNN)
Politics of the Plate: Florida's Slave Trade

Related: Put Down that Winter Tomato!

(Image: Slavery Footprint)

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Dana Velden is a freelance food writer. She lives, eats, plays, and gets lost in Oakland, California where she is in the throes of raising her first tomato plant.