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It All Ends With Certainty

There are numerous challenges with respect to the eradication of slavery from international chains of commerce. Thus, no one knows exactly how many persons are enslaved in some aspect of international commerce. In addition, although slavery is known to exist in the supply chains of numerous products, the presence of slave-tainted material in any particular end product is unknown. For example, we know that some gold is mined by slaves, but slave-mined gold is thought to be a tiny percentage of the gold that is mined world-wide every year. We cannot walk into an electronics store and point to a laptop and state, with any degree of confidence, that that particular laptop contains slave-mined gold.

To further complicate matters, many slave-produced products are fungible, that is, they look the same as and can be exchanged with any other product of the same type. For example, slave-mined gold looks the same and has the same properties as non-slave-mined gold.

Also, slavery is illegal everywhere; it is a hidden, criminal activity. Although slavery generates billions of dollars in profits annually, those who profit from slavery do not proclaim that they engage in crimes against humanity. There is no store selling slave-mined gold jewelry that promises customers 10% off because they are relying on slave labor.

And, for abolitionists, good enough is never good enough. We seek to eradicate all slavery, not some slavery, or most slavery, or almost all slavery. We will not stop until all slavery, everywhere, is abolished. In other words, our only acceptable success rate is 100%.

The problem, thus, presents itself: How do you completely eradicate a condition that is hidden, criminal, may or may not exist in any particular place, and often results in a product that cannot be detected or distinguished from other products of the same type ?

The answer is through certainty.

We must strive for and achieve continuing certainty that every product is slave-free at every level from the store through to the bottom of the supply chain, whether that bottom level is a field, or a mine, or a factory, or someplace else.

The various levels of a supply chain are commonly referred to as tiers. Thus, there may be five, six, seven, or more tiers between the laptop that you buy and the mine where the tiny bits of gold that are in the laptop was extracted in raw form from the earth. It will not do for a laptop dealer to say that it has an iron-clad anti-slavery contractual provision with its direct, first tier, supplier only, but that it expects the direct supplier to enforce similar provisions with the second tier supplier. By this process, the anti-slavery provisions are filtered and diluted, tier by tier, until we are left with little more than a hope and a prayer that there are no slaves when we finally reach the mine level tier. The problem is the same with respect to the cocoa in the chocolate candy that you buy at the supermarket or the cotton clothing that you buy at the mall.

Slavery is a profitable, criminal activity that has existed continuously for 4000 or so years of recorded history and unknown generations before that. We will not end slavery with good intentions and best efforts. We need to be precise, disciplined, determined, and relentless.

The only way to end slavery in international chains of commerce is to have verifiable certainty that each and every tier in the supply chain is slave-free. With such certainty, we can achieve eradication. Without such certainty, we are left with best efforts, good intentions, hope, and, ultimately, an inability to know whether or not eradication has been achieved. Those enslaved around the world deserve more.

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