Tackling Modern Slavery: Collapsing the Consumption and Production Divide

Statement of Problem

It is estimated that up to 60,000 people are currently enslaved in the US, and that at least 1,243,400 people are modern slaves across Europe[1]. This localised slavery is often invisible to those who live work and consume in the same communities. Many of these people are victims of human trafficking and are enslaved in industries such as domestic work, agriculture, restaurants/food service, and the sex trade, with women and girls representing the largest share of forced labour victims[2].

Focusing on the ethics of production, consumption and supply chains, recent anthropological and geographical schools of thought point to the tyranny of distance between sites of consumption and production in enabling social inequities and environmental degradation between privileged consumers in the global north and disadvantaged populations in the production sites of the global south (e.g. Kleine 2016; Lutchford 2016), calling for the distances between production and consumption to be bridged. Similarly, McDonagh, Dobscha and Prothero (2012) present an interdisciplinary TCR research agenda to study consumption and production together to promote environmental sustainability across the supply chain. We extend this approach to social sustainability. In this TCR track, we seek to bridge the divide between consumers and producers at localised sites of modern slavery – building local awareness for local and global consequence (Shaw, Chatzidakis and Carrington, 2016). In doing so, we seek to transform the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our local and global communities – modern slaves.

Track Focus

In this track we draw on Kilbourne and Mittelstaedt (2012) to ask: what would the market look like if consumption were not separated from its production consequences? In doing so, we propose to empirically explore the intersections between production and consumption at an individual level in the context of localised modern slavery, such as enslaved workers in the UK and US. Specifically, we investigate: (1) how consumers/producers understand modern slavery within their own country and the consequences of their consumption/production choices on enslaved people; (2) localised consumer/producer success stories to understand positive change factors; and (3) the impact of making the invisible enslavement practices visible on consumption/production of objects produced locally and globally.

To address this research agenda and enable industry engagement that is targeted to the right sectors, we propose a partnership with the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI)[3]. We will draw on networks within ETI to source participants and the stories of local slave workers, and to connect with key industry stakeholders – e.g. apparel companies and trade unions – through ETI workshops and conferences.

Key Track Goals

  1. Advancement of academic theory through the publication of a paper in the TCR Special Issue in the Journal of Business Ethics.
  2. Industry/production linkage through a series of ETI facilitated workshops and seminars.

Track Participants and Activities

We seek to collaborate with TCR researchers internationally with an interest in social sustainability, human rights, social justice and/or consumption and production ethics. Interdisciplinary and all methodological approaches are most welcome.

Pre-conference activities:

Track participants will be required to prepare 1-2 cases of modern slavery in their community/country prior to the conference. A broad guide will be circulated to the track team to assist with this pre-work.

During the Seminar:

We will meet and work as a team in an intensive workshop format to de-brief on the pre-work, and to use this pre-work as a platform to develop specific research aims, questions and plans. These will be engaging sessions, coordinated by the track chairs and participated in by all.

Post-conference activities:

Towards the development of an empirical paper for the JBR Special Issue, track members will be engaging in novel and localised methodological approaches that will make the invisible – localised slaves – visible, such as bringing consumers and individual producers together over stories of objects of consumption and their production under local slave labour conditions. We will then work together to develop the paper. These activities will be coordinated by the track chairs.

[1] Global Slavery Index (http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/)

[2] International Labour Organisation (ILO). “ILO 2012 Global estimate of forced labour Executive summary.”

[3] Note: The track co-chairs have an existing relationship with the ETI UK-based operation.


Deirdre Shaw

Professor of Marketing and Consumer Research, Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow, UK

Andreas Chatzidakis

Senior Lecturer, School of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK

Michal Carrington,

Lecturer, Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Melbourne

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