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



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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Crooked vendors exploiting flaw in eBay’s feedback system to con buyers into purchasing bogus and dangerous items



crooked vendors exploiting flaw in eBay’s feedback system

Buyers on eBay are being duped into purchasing substandard and counterfeit products due to a flaw in the online auction platform’s seller feedback system, according to an investigation conducted by UK consumer group Which?

The watchdog found that dishonest vendors can take advantage of these flaws by linking positive reviews of genuine products manufactured by companies such as Apple and Samsung to fake and low-quality items.

Which? found that crooked sellers are able to link thousands of positive reviews to eBay listings they have nothing to do with.

The organisation discovered that real reviews can be associated with fake products that are potentially dangerous, such as counterfeit mobile phone chargers that can pose a fire risk.

Sellers are able to do this by using “product IDs” associated with genuine items when adding their products to eBay, subsequently benefitting from the positive reviews those items have attracted.

The system is intended to make the process of listing products on eBay quicker and easier by allowing sellers to pull information from similar items that have a linked product ID.

As part of its investigation, Which? purchased 20 bogus Apple and Samsung accessories such as chargers and USB cables that were supposed to be official and shared the same reviews as products manufactured by the two technology firms

Calling for online ecommerce platforms to be held accountable for flaws in their seller feedback systems that allow dishonest vendors to pull the wool over buyers’ eyes, Head of Home Products and Services at Which? Natalie Hitchins said: “Our investigation has uncovered yet another example of online reviews being manipulated to mislead people.

“eBay’s product review system is confusing for consumers and could even direct them towards counterfeit or dangerous products sold by unscrupulous sellers.

“Online reviews influence billions of pounds of consumer spending each year.

“The [UK Competition and Markets Authority] must now investigate how fake and misleading reviews are duping online shoppers, taking the strongest possible action against sites that fail to tackle the problem.”

Responding to the findings of Which?’s investigation eBay said in a statement: “The research does not fully consider that there are distinctions between product reviews (which provide buyers with a holistic review of the same product), and seller feedback (which can be used to see specific reviews of a seller’s performance and may reflect the item’s condition).”

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that US politicians had called on lawmakers to hold ecommerce companies such as eBay and Amazon to account if they fail to prevent third-party vendors selling counterfeit or substandard products on their platforms.

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Major ‘lover boy’ prostitution gang broken up by coalition of European law enforcement agencies



major ‘lover boy’ prostitution gang

A Romanian human trafficking and prostitution network that used the “lover boy” method to entrap young women before forcing them into sex work has been broken up a coalition of European law enforcement agencies.

The lover boy method, also known as the “Romeo pimp” method, involves young men seducing victims with the objective of coercing them into prostitution.

Lover boy traffickers groom their victims to believe they have entered into a serious romantic relationship before using emotional, psychological and sometimes physical abuse to intimidate them into working in the sex services industry.

Investigators from Spain, Romania, the Czech Republic and several other European nations were involved in the operation that resulted in the dismantling of the gang, which is said to have groomed and exploited at least 10 young women by forcing them to work as prostitutes.

The operation resulted in the arrest of 14 people in Romania and Spain, the safeguarding of 10 trafficking victims, and the confiscation of a number of items, including a quantity of cash, jewellery, expensive vehicles and several electronic devices.

In total, the agencies taking part in the effort raided 16 properties in the Czech Republic, Romania and Spain.

Having groomed their victims, Romanian members of the network would develop manipulative dependent relationships with the young women they targeted before forcing them into sex work.

Once under the traffickers’ control, victims would be abused and drugged before being sold onto other members of the network for as much as €6,000 ($6,632) each.

The women would then be moved between locations and countries on a regular basis as part of the gang’s efforts to avoid the attention of police.

Profits made by the network were laundered through the purchase of property, expensive jewellery and high-value cars.

Ongoing investigations into the network’s activities are focussed on the theory that it was working in cooperation with another gang.

Enquires have already resulted in the identification of more than 40 additional women who fell victim to the two criminal organisations.

In a statement, Europol said: “Europol facilitated the information exchange between the participating countries, provided coordination support and analysed operational information against Europol’s databases to give leads to investigators.

“Europol conducted a financial analysis based on the information provided which highlighted the extension of the criminal activity of the group and the presence and flow of illicit profits to other jurisdictions.”

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Taking cocaine will not cure people struck down with the coronavirus, French government warns public



taking cocaine will not cure people infected with coronavirus

Authorities in France have been forced to inform the public that taking cocaine will not cure people infected with the coronavirus.

Taking to Twitter on Sunday, the French Ministry for Solidarity and Health told its followers that cocaine is not only ineffective when it comes to fighting the coronavirus, but is also a highly addictive drug that can cause serious harm to users’ health.

The government department was seeking to counter fake news circulating on social media that taking the drug could cure or prevent the virus, including doctored news stories that appeared to confirm the drug’s effectiveness at fighting the disease.

The ministry’s Twitter post included a link to a government information page that provided further guidance on disinformation circulating about the coronavirus outbreak.

As well as encouraging those worried about the coronavirus to start taking cocaine, online trolls have also suggested that bleach can also help fight the disease.

In a post on Twitter that has attracted many thousands of engagements, @Jordan_Sather_ told his followers: “Would you look at that. Not only is chlorine dioxide (aka ‘MMS’) an effective cancer cell killer, it can wipe out coronavirus too.

“No wonder YouTube has been censoring basically every single video where I discuss it over the last year.”

In August of 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about that dangers of consuming bleach, noting: “Drinking any… chlorine dioxide products can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and symptoms of severe dehydration.”

As well as warning about cocaine’s inability to fight the coronavirus, the French government has also told members of the public that spraying bleach or alcohol on their bodies will not neutralise viruses they have already been infected with.

Elsewhere, US Vodka maker Tito’s Homemade was last week forced to urge people not to make DIY hand sanitiser out of its products.

Responding to one of its customers who said they had done just that, the company said on Twitter: “Per the CDC [Centres for Disease Control and Prevention], hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60% alcohol. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is 40% alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC. Please see attached for more information.”

For its part, the World Health Organisation, which today officially categorised the coronavirus as a pandemic, has published a webpage dispelling misinformation about the disease, noting that the virus cannot be killed of avoided by taking a hot bath or using hand dryers.

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