I have 43 slaves working for me

November 7, 2011

by Gracia Ventus

Rick Owens shearling coat and turbo boots; the rest – various high street stores

Recently I took this quiz that determines how many slaves work for me (here). I live in a student flat, do not use the heater, nor own a car. My weekly groceries list is not lavish, mostly fruits and vegetables, lots of rice and some meat. I’m not a technophile, my Ipod and phone are more than three years old. Yet the quiz said that 43 slaves work for me. That’s right, fourty-three people whose labour goes unpaid.

I’m making the assumption here that most of my ‘slaves’ are producing clothes and leather goods. I admit I own a fairly large amount of them, especially the latter, considering that I have an obsession with leather, be it shoes, bags or clothing. Every freaking season I pine and whine for Rick Owens’s latest leather jackets.

While I’m aware that my consumption level is not exactly desirable for said slaves, what’s scary is that I’m most likely just another average consumer. Most people are probably consuming at the same rate or much more, albeit on different items, yet they are blissfully unaware of the forced labour that goes into making the latest electronic gadgets or sequinned tops. Case in point, a classmate of mine in an ethics class thinks that people in third world countries have a choice not to work under harsh labour conditions. Okay so he’s a ‘special’ case, but irresponsible capitalism has successfully hidden the truth and what consumers can’t see, they are mostly not going to give a damn about it. How many of us have bought more food than we can consume, only to discard it without so much as a second glance two weeks later because we ‘forgot’ about it? Even basic food items such as wheat and fish may have been produced under forced labour.

Changing my shopping habit has been a slow progress. Fashion is after all an industry that depends on obsolescence (“That is so last year”), so every season brings forth another wave of temptation. And then there’s the problem of coveting the proverbial neighbour’s possessions. I spot something that looks amazing on a blogger, and a few seconds later I find myself on ebay/polyvore searching for something similar.

It’s difficult to be ethical because as consumers we have been mollycoddled by sellers who provide convenience at the expense of our conscience. More often than not, being ethical is costly in terms of resources and time since we have to do our own digging, from the supply chain all the way to the racks. I don’t have a solution to chase the elephant out of the room, but I think consuming less would be a good start.


8 thoughts on “I have 43 slaves working for me

  • Emily

    by Emily on November 8, 2011 at 12:57 am

    Crazy! I have 23. Thank you for the link. And great boots!


  • O D Y S S E Y

    by O D Y S S E Y on November 8, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    that’s certainly an eye-opener. wonder how many i have…? i’m glad you shared this. i’m going to do the quiz.
    on a lighter note, your outfit is fantastic. the turbo boots: sooo good.

  • Katherine

    by Katherine on November 16, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Loved this post – you’re a fabulous writer and the topic is spot on! I need to take the quiz as well…

  • G

    by G on November 17, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    I have 40 slaves working for me! I’m guessing at least 10 of those were from my high consumption of chocolate (but then again, I’ve always eaten from makers who swear on their lives they don’t use cocoa slaves).

    My only question about these sort of views on consumerism is this: when does not choosing not to buy a product begin to affect normal, paid workers? And also, how much transparency is possible and viable (from the standpoint of you, the consumer, who needs to sort through all the product?)?

  • Rosenrot

    by Rosenrot on November 20, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Hi G, could you please expand on your first question? With regards to the second question, it is not possible to have full transparency, nor it is economically viable. If we’re too obsessed about it, we’ll never get anything done. As consumers, we do what we can by gathering information to make the right choices, also exercise our own judgement. After all, no matter how much CSR talk fast-fashion companies shove down our throat, someone’s bound to be on the losing end if handmade sequin tops are sold for $20. Hope that answers your second question, G.

  • Lucinda

    by Lucinda on November 22, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    The quiz was both sad and illuminating. I don’t consider the question of consumption nearly enough although I’m conscious of choosing not to shop at cheapy chain stores. Will this makes a difference? I’m not so optimistic.

  • Pleue

    by Pleue on January 23, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I absolutely adore your style. Perfect.

  • jane

    by jane on May 21, 2014 at 1:18 am

    your blog is smart, funny, deep… one of the best…congrat!!! about slaves and fashion industry i wrote one interesting post today: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/05/fashion-just-excuse-rich-exploit-poor


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