Concerned about goods made through child labour? Boycotts don’t help

Click to play video: 'Want to be a conscious consumer? Don’t boycott stuff'
Want to be a conscious consumer? Don’t boycott stuff
WATCH: As a consumer, here are some ways to help combat child labour – Jun 12, 2017

Canadians are buying billions-worth of products that could be made with child and slave labour, according to a new report that’s been making headlines today.

READ MORE: Goods made by child labourers flooding into Canada: report

Imports of such goods into this country amounted to $34-billion last year, up from $26-billion in 2012 — a 31 per cent increase, according to World Vision Canada.

But what are Canadian consumers to do?

Do not boycott brands or products

The first step is to read up on which products in your home or shopping bag are “at risk,” i.e. likely to have been made through child labour or workers toiling in slave-like or unsafe conditions.

World Vision Canada has a helpful virtual tour that will take consumers through the typical Canadians home and highlight the connection between child labour and common household products. Sugar, for example, can often come from fields in poor countries where children spend “long hours in the hot sun, out of school, wielding a machete and exposed to poisonous fertilizers,” according to the advocacy group.

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READ MORE: Canada signs international treaty aimed at reducing child labour

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Another must-read is the list of goods likely to be produced through child or forced labour compiled by the U.S. Department of Labour.

World Vision points to rising garment imports from Bangladesh, tomato imports from Mexico and footwear from India as reasons for consumers to check where products are made.

But boycotting clothing brands produced in Bangladesh and India or nixing Mexican tomatoes from your grocery list isn’t much help, according to activists.

“We oppose boycotts and never call for boycotts,” said Christie Miedema of Clean Clothes Campaign, which works to improve conditions for labourers in the garment industry.

That can lead to a multinational cutting ties with their suppliers, which will often result in workers themselves losing their jobs, said Miedema.

That’s the so-called “cut and run approach,” she told Global News, which can leave vulnerable workers without an essential source of livelihood.

Instead, the goal should be to pressure brands and retailers to work with suppliers to improve working conditions and the safety of factories, she added.

Instead, talk to the companies you buy from

Rather than boycotting or shaming companies, consumers should engage in “constructive dialogue” with them, reads the World Vision.

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Write to your favourite brands to inquire about how they ensure workers in their supply chain are treated fairly, suggested Miedema.

That kind of pressure signals to corporations that their customers care about socially conscious supply chains, she noted.

Clean Clothes Campaign provides a handy PDF with pre-written questions that consumers can print out and share.

READ MORE: U.S. bans import of goods produced by slave labour

Write to Ottawa about making companies release information about their supply chains

Canadians should also contact their government asking for legislation that will make it mandatory for brands to disclose their suppliers list, said Miedema.

World Vision has a petition asking Ottawa to mandate that large companies publicly report on their efforts to keep their supply chains free from child and forced labour.

A similar law adopted by the U.K. in 2015 led to nearly 60 per cent of affected companies “dramatically” increase communication with their suppliers, while half of them have taken increased action to address the issue.

– With a file from the Canadian Press

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