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10 Companies That Use Slave Labor

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month and January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The question is, how aware are you?

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Yes I hate to be one of those people that condemns every single thing that has become accepted into society, but I recently got the chance to go to an anti-human trafficking seminar as part of my school's initiative to bring the word out about the terrible situation at hand.

While most people would think of sweatshops where there are tiny little five year olds cutting their fingers in order to stitch up that $5 material shirt that ultimately ends up costing you $50, many people do not connect human trafficking with prostitution and forced manual labor. The sad truth of the matter is that there are more than 27 million people currently in forced or coerced labor issues where they are either working because they are trapped against their will or they have no other choice. Human trafficking affects all of us in every which way and its victims can include any race, gender, social class and any other discriminating factor.

The numbers just don't lie. The value of a slave in Abraham Lincoln's times would have been priced at $48,000 whereas today, that number is just $90. With over 100,000 humans trafficked into the U.S. every year, there is no doubt that this is the second largest crime industry in the world (with estimates of it surpassing drugs in the near future) with over a million children being used in sexual activities. The entire industry generates $32 billion per year and that number is just increasing as 800,000 people are being transferred among the 161 countries involved in human trafficking. The worse part might be that for every person convicted of the horrendous crime, there are 800 victims that are left unnoticed and still in deplorable situations.

Below are just some of the major offenders of the manual labor side of human trafficking, but if you would like to find more information, visit these sites to learn more on how you can help, or even to see how many slaves work for you.

1. Hershey's

Is it true? Is that Hershey's Cookies N Creme really worth the tiny hands that pick the cocoa beans? Think about it this way- less calories you'll be absorbing. Over 1.8 million children are working in West African cocoa farms working endless hours to pick the beans to make your midnight craving tasteful. These children are often times sold off by their parents who are poverty stricken and are in desperate need of the money or even just sometimes promised jobs in distant places. Many of these children are trafficked from Malawi where they experience inhumane working conditions, low wages and sexual and/or physical abuse. There are even several petitions to get the company to stop its harsh treatment of children, but ten years later after a court hearing for Hershey's and still no change in conditions for the children.

2. Walmart

Walmart is filled with numerous items ranging from clothes to food to electronics, but have you ever wondered why you can get that pound of shrimp so much cheaper than your local supermarket? Walmart invests in third party companies to get much of their products- so they turn to one company for shoes, one for shirts, etc. There are numerous complaints against each type of third party company Walmart associates with, but one such example includes Thailand's Songkhla facility where Walmart gets the majority of its shrimp. The factory workers were forced to go on strike after the company cut off their food supply due to the government ordering a higher wage. Previously, workers would live in cramped and unhygienic barracks steps away from the factories they worked in, and they would receive food as well as some pay to live off of. After the government ordered a minimum wage to be raised to $8.48 a day, the company shut down it's food privileges to the workers, causing many to go on strike.These workers were even forced to suffer through inadequate toilet facilities and insufficient bathroom breaks, leading many workers to just relieve themselves at their work stations. Thailand has it's own universal healthcare system in place that the company did not sign the workers up for and many of the workers were trafficked from different parts of the country as well as other places where a majority of their pay went to repaying the traffickers for "transport fees." There are plenty more infractions to be found in Walmart (and in this factory alone) but there has been little help from Walmart to get these conditions better.

3. H&M

The company has gone through tough times in view of the public eye, and there's a lot hiding from view that will surely make you hate it even more. In 2010, the company went under fire for cutting up its unsold clothing items and throwing them away in the garbage. There has been much outcry over the 34th Street H&M Store in Manhattan as there is a coat drive location literally around the corner from the store. The clothes would be cut into with knives as shoes would be purposely torn apart. The company also was accused of lying about its organic cotton claims and more recently, 21 workers were killed (along with 50 injured) in a Garib & Garib Newaj factory where the company is employed by H&M and other major clothing stores to meet impossible deadlines. There were no working fire escapes and the women were forced to stay at their working posts until they met the demands of the day's goal.

4. Abercrombie and Fitch

Well I can certainly say that many people already don't like the company because of the comments the founder made so what's a little more bad news I can tell you about the company? The company went to court, along with other companies like GAP and Target, over the unfair treatment of workers who are forced to slave off hours of their lives in poor working conditions with little pay. It even received the 2010 Sweatshop Hall of Shame Award where workers are forced into long hours under dangerous conditions and they were met with threats or even physically beaten if they decided to voice their opinions and attempt to unionize. Abercrombie is just one of the companies that gets its materials from Uzbekistan which traffics children into cotton fields to make the cotton shirts. And they even have the balls to say this.

5. Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic

Ironic how that shirt you bought your eight year old niece was made by an eight year old in New Delhi, India. Recently, police have helped to free children ranging from the ages of eight to 15 who were working for no pay in these sweatshops. Their parents would be sweet talked by an agent who promised them hundreds of thousands of rupees, but in reality, they were transported to the sweatshops to complete their work. About 55 million children in this age range are forced to work in sweatshops which accumulates to 20% of India's GDP alone. On December 15, 2010, the company's (as well as several others which are also on this list) most notorious sweatshop, The Ha-meem Group, caught on fire and killed at least 29 Bengali workers. The doors were locked on the outside to prevent the workers from taking breaks and it led to the workers jumping out of windows or just burning to their death. They were only working for $24 a month.

6. Nike

The company that made it big by advertising cheap sports apparel for the average man, (or at least that's how it started). Well the company has been trying to win the public's favor over in the past few years with its recycle a shoe program, but it's not enough to hide the fact that it employs the labor of underaged hostages in a sense to get that shoe on your foot. The company has its main sweatshops in Malaysia where the workers are beaten into making your shoes, and their workers in China have 12 hour workdays with forced overtime. These workers are under the age of sixteen for the most part and are surrounded by harmful and dangerous toxic fumes that have been lethal in the past, none the less, working extremely less than minimum wage.

7. Calvin Klein

Phillips-Van Heusen, the parent company of Calvin Klein as well as one of the largest garment companies in the world, encourages the use of beatings and passport/ID stealing to force people to work for them. What? The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released an article detailing a 200 worker strike fighting for more rights. Six of those workers were arrested for signing a document that said they were beaten, forced to sign blank documents, had their passports taken, verbally abused, threatened to be deported, and just about anything else. The workers had over 15 hour workdays, and since then, the factories were just closed and the workers were moved to another facility.

8. Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works, The Limited, Express

These are all companies owned by Limited Brand, which, before I start with the workers' rights, the company (Victoria's Secret) was accused of cutting down 400 million trees for their catalogs, which amounted to over a million catalogs a day. None the less, the company employs 150 workers for 15 hours a day, ranging from 7 am to 10 pm every day of the week. They "earn" a day off once every four months while they spend at least 105 hours a week at the factories. They are paid $0.04 per Victoria's Secret bikini which at least costs $14, and they are given just 3.3 minutes to sew it. There was even another case in Jordan sweatshops where workers are treated in even far more worse conditions working for free.

9. Apple

This comes to no surprise as The Telegraph came out with an article in 2010 detailing how there were eleven 15 year olds working in factories building that phone you're reading this off of. In another factory owned by Apple, 62 workers were poisoned with n-hexane gas that leads to muscular degeneration and blurred eyesight. The factory was run by Wintek in Suzhou, China. Another employee was beaten and then committed suicide after he was caught stealing the prototype for a new Apple product. About 65% of Apple's factories follow wage laws and only about 57% have permits to operate. ABC had the chance to go inside one of their factories where they discovered nets surrounding the building to catch workers trying to commit suicide. (Video here ). Workers would stand for their work shift (which would often include a 24 hour shift) and perform monotonous tasks like wiping screens or polishing aluminum for the standard ten hour shift. About eighteen workers had committed suicide in the Shenzhen factory and despite this, thousands more line up to work, since being taken advantage of at $1.54 per hour is better than nothing. Workers also have to pay rent at $15 a month in which they share one cramped room with seven other people, and their lunch costs about 80 cents a day.

10. Coca Cola

Coke has been around for a long time, so it's no wonder that it would employ illegal acts to get their product on your table. Such illegal acts also include murder. What? Murder? The past companies gave examples of employees committing suicide, but a company murdering its workers? Well, in the 1970s Guatemala, there was major union movement in Guatemala City where workers belonging to the union were mysteriously murdered by two people on motorcycles. As James Bond-ish as that sounds, as well as this non-news biased site says so, one of these workers was Jose Alberto Vicente Chavez, whose family (his nephew and uncle) were killed along with his daughter raped. More problems arose in Coca Cola's factories in Columbia, where the company tortured and abused workers, including five victims from the Carepa Plant and plenty more, including Isidro Gil and Adolfo de Jesus Munera. The families of these two workers brought a court case to the US where Coke has continuously denied murders and kidnappings of its workers, and has even led a number of misleading investigations to research that fact. In India, the towns Coca-Cola has its factories are in a severe drought as the company has used up all the groundwater and polluted it with toxic waste, and to add insult to injury, the company resold that same polluted water back to the towns (Kerala, India especially) as Dasani. Jose Armando Palacios was also murdered along with Chavez (above) and in his court case his family brought to the US, it was told that he was murdered the same day that he refused to give away his right to reinstatement at Coca-Cola. The Company threatened his family and himself unless he gave up his right, since they were trying to weaken the union.

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