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Consumers should not be the first line of defence against modern slavery

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defence against modern slavery

It has for some time now been fashionable in certain circles to accuse consumers of being complicit in modern slavery. The argument goes that by paying for goods or services made possible as a result of forced or low-paid labour, members of the public are sustaining a trade that exploits millions of vulnerable people across the globe every year. Even governments have argued that consumers should be “the first line of defence” against human trafficking, with authorities in both the US and the UK regularly launching campaigns that encourage members of the public to be alert for the signs of modern slavery, often advising that if a deal appears too good to be true, it probably is. But while consumers should certainly strive to do their utmost to ensure the purchases they make do not contribute to the problem, it has become all but impossible to avoid buying items or services that may in some way have been tainted by modern slavery, making the concept of consumer complicity in the trade increasingly difficult to take seriously.

The trafficking and exploitation of human beings has become one of the largest forms of organised crime on the planet over recent years, and while differences in the way it is recorded from country to country make it hard to quantify precisely, the UN’s International Labour Organisation estimates that more than 40 million people were victims of modern slavery in 2016. From fishermen in Thailand paid slave wages to catch seafood that makes its way into western supermarkets, to children in Myanmar forced to work long hours for pennies to produce clothes sold by some of the world’s biggest brands, to eastern European and Nigerian prostitutes compelled to sell their bodies in EU brothels, to car wash and nail bar workers in British towns earning below minimum wage and sleeping in overcrowded properties, there are few industries in western economies that are not either directly or indirectly linked to slavery somewhere in their supply chains. Some rogue states have even been accused of forcing their own people to work in slave-like conditions to support their economies, with a recent BBC Panorama documentary alleging that North Korea is supplying cheap labour to China, Russia and countries in Europe.

Most right-thinking people would justly be applauded at the manner in which victims of modern slavery are treated, but the fact that forced labour has become so engrained in global supply chains makes any suggestion that members of the public should be considered the first line of defence against this type of exploitation ridiculous. In some cases, the accusation that consumers are guilty of encouraging modern slavery through their purchasing “choices” bears the distinct whiff of elitism, and is often levelled by politically-correct commentators who can typically afford to make ethical decisions when deciding which goods or services to buy. While electing not to have your vehicle valeted at a car wash you suspect may be underpaying its staff might be easy if you have the money to go elsewhere, some consumers simply cannot afford to consider whether the clothing they are about to buy their children may have been produced by a slave worker.

While it is likely that most consumers are happy to do what they can to avoid buying goods or services that may have been made possible by slave labour where it is practical or affordable for them to do so, it is the responsibility of government to ensure that the correct laws are in place to prevent people traffickers from exploiting workers. Members of the public should not be blamed for the failure of policy. If small businesses such as nail bars, restaurants or car washes are paying slave wages, their owners should be arrested and prosecuted. If larger firms fail to identify and root out modern slavery from their supply chains, they should face large and meaningful fines. In many cases, consumers do not have the luxury of being able to make ethical purchasing choices, so should not be made to feel bad for authorities’ failure to crack down on goods and services made possible by slave labour.

Rather than placing the onus on members of the public, governments, commentators and campaigners would be better advised to spend their time targeting the companies and individuals that profit from and facilitate forced labour. It is appalling that vulnerable people are still being forced to work in poor conditions for little or no pay all these years after most assumed slavery had been consigned to history, but blaming consumers for a problem they have so little control over is futile. While wrongly calling out members of the public for being complicit in human trafficking and modern slavery may be a convenient way for governments to absolve themselves of responsibility for the problem, and a means by which politically-correct commentators can signal their virtue, doing so does little to help the millions across the globe who are routinely forced into back-breaking work for little or no reward.

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Singaporean woman facing 20 years in jail for printing homemade bogus banknotes

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printing homemade bogus banknotes

A woman in Singapore is facing as many as 20 years behind bars after police arrested her on suspicion of printing her own homemade counterfeit banknotes.

Officers from the Singapore Police Force (SPF) detained the 30-year-old after receiving multiple reports of attempts to pass off fake S$50 ($37) notes at various retail outlets across the Hougang and Tampines housing estates.

After carrying out enquires, investigators from the SPF’s Commercial Affairs Department identified the woman as the source of the bogus banknotes and proceeded to arrest her.

Police seized two suspected fake banknotes, a printer, stationery, two handbags, and more than S$1,200 in cash from the woman.

The SDF believes she used the printer to produce the fake S$50 notes, which she then proceeded to spend on several low-value items on at least 10 occasions.

She also stands accused of being involved in a theft that took place back in February.

The woman was charged with counterfeiting banknotes and then using them, offences that can be punished in Singapore with a maximum prison term of 20 years and a large fine.

In a statement, the SDF warned members of the public to remain vigilant for people attempting to pass off counterfeit banknotes, and to call police should they be presented with what they suspect may be fake currency.

“Preliminary investigations revealed that the woman is believed to have printed several pieces of S$50 notes with her own printer and used the counterfeit S$50 notes on at least 10 occasions to purchase items of low value,” the SDF said.

“Two pieces of S$50 notes, which are believed to be counterfeits, a printer, printing paper, stationery, apparel, an EZ-link card, cash amounting to more than S$1,200 and two handbags were seized as case exhibits.”

Earlier this month, the SDF said it had received multiple reports of people attempting to spend bogus S$50 and S$100 banknotes at convenience stores, restaurants and retail outlets in a number of locations.

The force said it had arrested and charged three men aged between 25 and 29 in connection with the reports, which it said related to currency that appeared to have been photocopied and lacked security features such as watermarks and security threads.

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Drug traffickers using private airstrips and ports in the Philippines to import narcotics, authorities warn

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Drug investigators in the Philippines are introducing new measures intended to prevent the importation of illicit substances through the country’s hundreds of private airstrips and ports, according to the country’s state-run news agency.

In an interview published on Friday, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) boss Aaron Aquino said traffickers are routinely using unmanned runways and private ports as landing spots for private airplanes, seaplanes and yachts carrying large quantities of illegal drugs.

Aquino raised his concerns after the issue was discussed during the Philippines’ Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) Enforcement Cluster Meeting, which was held earlier this month in Quezon City.

The PDEA is now lobbying for the establishment of a new inter-agency taskforce designed to stop drug traffickers from using the country’s 1,200 private ports as entry points.

“Before, drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) are shipping tons of illegal drugs, either finished products or raw materials, through shipside smuggling in the high seas, airports and seaports. But now, they have included in their itineraries unmanned landing strips and private ports as drug transit routes,” Aquino said.

“Airstrips have no airport facilities that is why proper documentation of the name of the arriving passenger/s, cargo details, among others, remains a problem. There is also a possibility that foreign chemists flew in and out of the country via the backdoor using the runways and open seas.”

Separately, the Philippine Information Agency has announced that the PDEA has opened a dedicated rehabilitation centre for glue sniffers in Quezon City.

Opening the Sagip Batang Solvent Reformation Centre, Aquino said the facility would help take children and young people off the street and keep them away from drug use.

Workers at the new site will offer reformative care and reintegrated interventions such as education, counselling, values formation and skills development.

The centre is currently treating 28 solvent abusers, the youngest of whom is aged just 11, the PDEA said.

Impoverished children living in slums across the Philippines regularly sniff glue as a means by which to alleviate their hunger and escape from the squalid nature of their environment.

The industrial solvents they inhale can cause sudden death, brain damage, memory loss and harm to the central nervous system, kidneys and liver.

Children addicted to glue and other solvents in the Philippines often fund their habits through petty crime such as street robberies, extortion and drug dealing.

Earlier this month, the PDEA launched a new programme that will see solvent abusers housed in government institutions until they address their addictions.

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Global food fraud crackdown results in seizure of goods worth $117 million and arrest of 672 suspects

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global food fraud crackdown

Fake food and drink products estimated to be worth $117 million have been seized during a global coordinated crackdown on food fraud coordinated by Interpol and Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordination Centre.

Law enforcement officials taking part in the latest instalment of Operation Opson, which is intended to target criminals involved in the sale of counterfeit and substandard food and drink products, also arrested 672 individuals across the world.

Taking place between December 2018 and April this year, Operation Opson VIII saw police, customs officers, food regulatory authorities and private sector partners in 78 countries target individuals and organisations involved in the growing global food fraud trade.

Investigators participating in the effort successfully removed approximately 16, 000 tonnes and 33 million litres of potentially dangerous fake food and drink from global supply chains after collectively carrying out over 67,000 inspections at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates.

Authorities contributing to the operation reported discovering cheese and chicken products labelled with fraudulent expiry dates, drink products that had been adulterated with controlled drugs, and meat that was stored in unsanitary conditions.

In Zimbabwe, police confiscated more than 14,000 litres of soft drinks that contained high levels of the active ingredient in erectile dysfunction medication, while investigators in Belarus impounded more than 60 tonnes of apples that were being transported under forged documentation.

Law enforcement officers in Russia seized 4,200 litres of counterfeit alcohol as they shut down an illicit vodka production site, while their colleagues in South Africa detained three suspects in connection with the discovery of alcohol meant for export that had been repackaged and sold domestically to avoid taxes.

Elsewhere, customs investigators in Italy seized over 150,000 litres of poor-quality sunflower oil that fraudsters had attempted to pass off as extra virgin oil by adding chlorophyll and beta-carotene to the finished product.

Revealing the results of the latest Opson operation in a statement, Interpol Director of Organised and Emerging Crime Paul Stanfield said: “Counterfeit and substandard food and beverages can be found on the shelves in shops around the world, and their increasing sale online is exacerbating the threat that food crime poses to the public.

“Operation Opson VIII saw a substantial amount of counterfeit food and drink taken out of circulation, but there is much more that can be done.

“Interpol calls for further efforts and better coordination at the national, regional and international levels in order to stem this tide which endangers the health of consumers worldwide.”

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