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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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Malaysian investigators uncover record haul of nearly 30 tonnes of pangolins at two illicit plants

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record haul of nearly 30 tonnes of pangolins

Police in Malaysia have seized over 27 tonnes of pangolins and their body parts from traffickers running two illicit plants dedicated to the processing of the critically-endangered animal, according to wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.

Acting after receiving intelligence, investigators first raided one facility in the Sabah state capital of Kota Kinabalu on 7 February, before later swooping on a warehouse in Tamparuli, nearly 22 miles away from the city.

The massive haul, which is thought to be the largest ever recovered in the country, is estimated to have been worth some 8.4 million ringgit ($2 million) on the black market.

In an operation that exposed the role Sabah plays in the global illegal trade in pangolin parts, police involved in the raids recovered 1,800 boxes containing frozen pangolins, 572 individual frozen pangolins in six freezers, 61 live pangolins in cages and in the boot of a car, and 361kgs of pangolin scales.

Police also recovered two bear paws and the carcasses of four flying foxes.

A 35-year-old man, thought to be a manager of one of the sites, was arrested following the raids, Traffic said, citing police sources.

The anti-trafficking organisation said it hoped the raids would help lead investigators to the organised criminal syndicates behind both the domestic and international illicit trade in pangolin parts.

Pangolins, which are thought to be the most trafficked mammal on the planet, are estimated to make up around a fifth of the world’s illicit trade in wildlife.

The animals’ scales are in high demand in many Asian countries, where they are used in a range of traditional medicine, while their meat is considered a delicacy in China and other Asian nations.

Many people across Asia mistakenly believe that pangolin body parts contain properties that can cure a number of ailments ranging from hangovers to cancer, despite there being no evidence whatsoever that this is the case.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Traffic’s Southeast Asia Director Kanitha Krishnasamy said: “Detecting large volumes of pangolin smuggling is no easy feat and Sabah authorities are congratulated for pursuing and taking down this smuggling operation

“It is hoped that comprehensive investigations can lead to unmasking the syndicate and networks operating from the state and beyond.”

The raids come ahead of this Saturday’s World Pangolin Day, which is intended to raise awareness of how heavily the animal is trafficked.

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Industry body unveils new effort to protect European advertisers from online pirated content

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protect European advertisers from online pirated content

An anti-piracy group has announced a new initiative that is intended to help European brands protect themselves from being associated with pirated content.

Advertising industry organisation the Trustworthy Accountability Group (Tag) yesterday announced Project Brand Integrity, which is intended to alert companies and their advertising agencies when their marketing material has appeared alongside pirated material online.

The new initiative, which is modelled on a similar effort launched in the US that is said to have reduced the number of impressions linked to pirated content by more than 90% over two years, will be operated by Tag in partnership with advertising auditing firm White Bullet, which will monitor and document ads on infringing sites.

After scanning ad-supported infringing sites serving markets in Europe, White Bullet’s technology will identify any ads that appear alongside pirated content, before forwarding that information to Tag, which will contact the advertiser and/or its agency so they can take remedial action.

Mike Zaneis, CEO of Tag, commented: “If you are a brand advertiser, the skull-and-crossbones isn’t just a pirate movie trope. It accurately reflects the toxic danger of associating your brand with stolen content and criminal activities on pirate sites.

“Project Brand Integrity will serve as an early warning system for advertisers and their agencies, so we can alert them when their ads have run near stolen content and help them implement effective safeguards to prevent it from happening again.

“We are delighted to work with White Bullet to jointly enable this program, while advancing the European Commission’s important work in this area.”

The new project forms part of wider drive by major advertisers and their partners to ensure online marketing material does not appear alongside content that could damage brand reputation.

Over recent years, major brands including Unilever, Mars and Verizon have pulled their ads from major video streaming platforms such as YouTube over worries that they were appearing alongside child sexual abuse material, violent drill rap videos and content relating to religious extremism.

Puling its material from various platforms over fears its ads were being shown alongside inappropriate content featuring children in November 2017, Mars said: “We have taken the decision to immediately suspend all our online advertising on YouTube and Google globally.

“Until we have confidence that appropriate safeguards are in place, we will not advertise on YouTube and Google.”

YouTube and Google have since boosted their efforts to take down or demonetise inappropriate or questionable content through fear of alienating advertisers.

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Romanian sex trafficking brothers who modified penises with metal balls to cause more pain to rape victims jailed for 108 years

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Romanian sex trafficking brothers

Two Romanian brothers who trafficked vulnerable young women into Spain and forced them into prostitution have been jailed for a total of 108 years after a court heard they inserted metal balls into their penises in a bid to cause maximum pain to their rape victims.

Cristian and Sebastián Sandulache, who were said to have made as much as €11,000 ($12,448) a night by forcing their victims to sell sex, were sentenced to 55 and 53 years respectively by a Spanish court last month.

Despite the huge amount of money the brothers and their fellow gang members were able to rake in, their victims were paid only around €200 a fortnight after being told they must work off the debt they had built up travelling to Spain.

As well as modifying their penises to cause the women they trafficked as much pain as possible, prosecutors told the court the sadistic siblings sliced one woman’s arm off with a samurai sword, and forced others to eat euro banknotes when they failed to bring in enough money while prostituting themselves.

After forcing the women to wash down the notes with water, the brothers are said to have told them they would be made to eat coins should they fail to make sufficient money in the future.

The pair made victims sell their bodies at a brothel in the northwest town of Oviedo after luring them from their home country of Romania with false promises of well-paid legitimate work.

Once the women arrived in Spain, the brothers stripped them of their travel documents and mobile phones, before beating and raping them and forcing them to work as prostitutes.

While serving a previous prison sentence, the brothers sliced holes in their own penises and inserted metal balls into the holes as part of a bid to make sex more pleasurable for themselves and more painful for their partners, the court was told.

As well as being handed lengthy jail terms, the brothers were also ordered to pay their victims large amounts of compensation.

The pair’s lawyers said they both intend to appeal the length of their sentences, having initially denied all of the charges against them, maintaining that the women who accused them of wrongdoing were lying, and were only interested in extracting compensation from them.

If they had been convicted of all the charges they faced, the brothers could have been handed a total of 600 years behind bars.

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