Besides the damage caused to the world economy by the counterfeit, and sometimes even to the health of the consumers, the production of counterfeit products in many cases is connected with the use of slave labor of adults and even children. This practice is especially common in Asian countries, such as China, Bangladesh, or India.
Despite the fact the global trade entwined the entire globe with its chains of sales which helped the population of many countries to get out of poverty by granting a bigger number of workplaces, the forced labor problems are still relevant. According to the latest estimates, more than 152 million children and 25 million adults are currently in a kind of labor slavery.
At the end of 2020 Bureau of International Labor Affairs of the US Department of Labor conducted and published the study with the list of goods for manufacturing of which slave labor is used in China, that are fabrics, threads, gloves, tomato products, and household chemicals. Also, the list includes our regular artificial flowers, toys, electronics, and household appliances, footwear, pyrotechnics, and building materials.
We gladly buy pseudo-brand things as they are much cheaper, and sometimes they are not worse than the original product. However, it’s unlikely that while choosing a bag or shoes somebody has thought about who made these products and in which conditions. As a rule, the counterfeit products are produced somewhere in the basements without access to fresh air or daylight, or at the old factories, which are not about occupational health and safety. Nobody takes care of these people and their lives. For example, in 2014 in Bangladesh clothing factory collapsed, 1132 people died, and over 2500 were seriously injured. Unfortunately, that particular case is not the only one in the history of the production of fake things and the use of forced labor.
Xinjiang Vocational Education and Training Centers for Muslims
Talking about China, the Celestial Empire officially acknowledged 55 ethnic groups. One of them is Uyghurs, Chinese citizens preaching Islam. As strange as it may sound to us, there are several real camps in Xinjiang province under the guise of “education and training сenters”. Uyghurs are forcedly sent to such “centers” where they have to work at the factories or plants, producing the textile, for example. They are paid poorly, aren’t allowed to quit, and the communication with the family is either limited or absent. If family communication or visits are allowed, they are strictly controlled or decreased. In their free time when they don’t work Uyghurs have to learn Standard Chinese and have to be indoctrinated. The dormitories where they live are fenced with barbed wire under electrical voltage and there are surveillance cameras everywhere. The local police always escort the Uyghurs from dormitories to their place of work and back. The workers cannot quit as local authorities have seized their documents. Regardless of all efforts of the Chinese government the situation rapidly deteriorates. Starting 2017 at least 10 000 Uyghurs and the representatives of other ethnic groups in China have been working at the manufacturing facilities for export, as real slaves. According to the reports these factories supply at least 82 global brands in the tech, apparel, and automotive sectors. These include companies such as Gap, Victoria's Secret, Nike, Zara, Polo Ralph Lauren, The North Face, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger, Boohoo, H&M, Puma, Uniqlo, and others.
Unfortunately, such “educational and training centers” are not the only example of the use of forced labor in the country and counterfeit manufacturers use not only adults but also children for their illegal purposes. According to the 2020 Trafficking In Persons Report, approximately 25 million people are still in slavery. 79% of them are women and children. In the fashion industry, child labor is widespread and is prohibited by law in most countries. In the world, there are over 170 million minors involved in the work at the factories and fields. The exploitation of children in the textile industry gained the greatest scales in seven countries – Egypt, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India, Thailand, and China.
Children can be kidnapped, sold, or deceived into slavery. Teenagers work 18-19 hours a day and after the end of the shift they are locked up at the enterprise’s territory in the ditches, they aren’t allowed to wash or leave their “bedrooms” even to use the toilet. Small children under 8 years of age are harnessed to carts for several people as a draft force. Slaves aren’t provided with clothes or shoes. Due to overwork children suffer from huge calluses disfiguring joints, on the skin of almost all bleeding wounds and ulcers. They are regularly beaten up and their supervisors may not feed them for a few days.
Daa Thomas, journalist and book author “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre” after visiting an underground factory in Thailand, wrote:
“I remember walking into an assembly plant in Thailand a couple of years ago and seeing six or seven little children, all under 10 years old, sitting on the floor assembling counterfeit leather handbags,’ an investigator told me… ‘The owners had broken the children’s legs and tied the lower leg to the thigh so the bones wouldn’t mend. [They] did it because the children said they wanted to go outside and play.”
No matter how scary it is to realize, but that is the reality. The counterfeit manufacturers make good money using slavery labor. The workers receive less than $1 hourly in the best-case scenario, and more often they aren’t paid at all. We should think about whether we are that lucky to buy cheap Prada bags or Nike trainers when we know that these things could be produced by sick poor children in dark damp basements on pain of death. Will we feel so confident in these things, knowing that we are sponsoring at least one more ruined childhood life with our purchase?