Understanding what people know about modern slavery to help eradicate it, is the focus of a new joint study.
Academics at University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School, Royal Holloway University of London and University of Melbourne, interviewed consumers in three UK cities – London, Glasgow and Blackpool – to gain their thoughts and feelings about slavery today.
Their probing identified people’s impressions of modern slavery, how consumers were ‘blinded’ to enslaved people when interacting with them, how they justified their inaction to it, and who they thought was responsible for ending modern slavery.
Findings also revealed those who took part were confused about where labour exploitation ends and slavery begins, with many believing modern slavery is something that only happens abroad.
Those probed largely thought the responsibility to fix the problem lay with someone external to them, such as the government or a company.
It is estimated that around 1.2m people are modern slaves across Europe.
By using consumer perceptions academics will identify the boundaries where people will and won’t take action against modern slavery. They will also determine the key messages and ways to counter widespread beliefs to effectively raise awareness and create a pathway to positive action to help eradicate it.
Modern slavery is defined by a relationship where the balance of power is one sided and where one person controls another through physical or psychological oppression. This may occur through actual or threatened violence.
The Modern Slavery Act (2015) is designed to combat modern slavery in the UK. However, there is no governmental body set to enforce compliance with the Modern Day Slavery Act so it relies on the public to hold companies to account.
Professor Deidre Shaw, Professor in Marketing and Consumer Research, University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School said: “Society doesn’t understand slavery is taking place in the city, town or rural area where they live, or that they are consuming products and services as a result of that slavery. People don’t understand they can do something about it. This work will support all stakeholders from government, businesses and NGOs through to consumers to play a role in ending modern slavery.”
Dr Michal Carrington, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Melbourne said: “We consume the products of slavery every day – all of us. With modern, globalised supply chains, it is almost impossible to escape the fingerprints of slaves that are interlaced throughout the products and services delivered into stores and to our doorsteps. These slaves might be across the other side of the globe or just across the street, and yet remain largely invisible to us. This research brings us one step closer to opening our eyes — as consumers — to our role in creating the demand for slavery; providing government, business and consumers with pathways to take action against slavery in production and consumption.”
Professor Andreas Chatzidakis, Professor of Marketing, Royal Holloway University of London said: “It is important that we, as everyday consumers, recognise our role in perpetuating modern day slavery. It is our choices, after all, that drive demand for slave-based services and products. At the same time it is important to be both realistic and strategic in terms of what can, and should, be addressed through individual choices and actions. We have to be adamant about the fact that the causes of slavery and extreme labour exploitation are profoundly structural, and connected to global chains of consumption and production.”
The academics who carried out this work are applying for grant funding to undertake a larger study that builds on these initial insights.