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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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Chinese medicine could bring about destruction of half the world’s donkeys, new report reveals

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destruction of half the world’s donkeys

A new report from UK-based animal welfare charity the Donkey Sanctuary has revealed that more than half of the world’s donkey population could be wiped out over the five years due to the animal’s body parts being used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Noting that Donkey populations are being decimated in multiple countries across Africa, South America and Asia, the report claims that millions of donkeys are being slaughtered by wildlife traffickers who sell their skins.

Illicit wildlife traders even target pregnant mares, foals and sick donkeys, which are stolen before being transported and killed.

Warning that the species is now “in a state of global crisis”, and that the supply of donkey skins cannot meet demand in China, the Donkey Sanctuary has called for an urgent halt to the largely unregulated global trade in donkey skins before donkey populations are completely annihilated in some parts of the world.

The gelatine in donkey hides is a key ingredient in ejiao, which has been used as a traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years by those who believe it improves blood circulation and can be used to treat conditions such as anaemia, despite there being no clinical evidence to support this.

Over recent years, ejiao has become popular with China’s burgeoning middle class, and is increasingly seen as a wellness product that is added to all manner of products including face creams, sweets and liqueurs.

Numerous claims are made about the benefits of consuming ejiao, with proponents suggesting it can boost libido, aid sleep, prevent cancer and make people look younger.

No evidence exists to support any of these claims.

According to the Donkey Sanctuary, China needs some 4.8 million donkey hides a year for domestic ejiao production, which is driving traffickers in Africa, Asia and South America to source and sell skins to Chinese traders.

As well as seriously threatening donkey numbers in a number of countries, the illicit trade in the animal’s body parts increases the risk of the spread of dangerous diseases such as anthrax and equine diseases due to unhygienic practices during transport and slaughter.

Commenting on the findings of the charity’s report, Mike Baker, Chief Executive of the Donkey Sanctuary, said: “This is suffering on an enormous and unacceptable scale. This suffering is not just confined to donkeys as it also threatens the livelihood of millions of people.

“The skin trade is the biggest threat to donkey welfare we have ever seen. Urgent action needs to be taken.”

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Boy aged 16 arrested on US border with remote-control car and methamphetamine worth $100,000

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US border control officers have arrested a 16-year-old boy on suspicion of using a remote-control car to smuggle methamphetamine estimated to the worth more than $100,000 across the US/Mexico border.

Customs investigators allegedly saw the boy close to the border carrying two duffel bags and called in additional agents to help apprehend him.

One officer noticed the boy attempting to hide himself in a bush close to the secondary border wall, where he was found to be in possession of a remote-control car.

While questioning the boy, who identified himself as US citizen, officers discovered that the two bags he was carrying contained 50 packages of methamphetamine.

In total, the drugs he was in possession of weighed more than 25kgs and had an estimated street value of $106,096.

Customs agents arrested the boy and took him to a nearby station to face drug smuggling charges.

In a statement on the US Customs and Border Control (CBP) website, San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Douglas Harrison said: “I am extremely proud of the agents’ heightened vigilance and hard work in stopping this unusual smuggling scheme.”

Last August, CBP officers arrested 25-year-old man carrying nearly 7kgs of methamphetamine after agents spotted a remote-controlled drone flying over the US/Mexico border.

Drones are now routinely used by criminals to sneak contraband across borders and into restricted sites such as prisons.

Last month, a man from the US state of Georgia was handed a four-year jail term after he was caught attempting to fly a drug-laden drone into Jimmy Autry State Prison.

Eric Lee Brown, 35, admitted one count of operating an aircraft eligible for registration knowing that it was not registered, and pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal to attempting to use the drone to drop a large bag of cannabis into the jail.

Speaking after Brown was sentenced, US Attorney Charlie Peeler said: “Smugglers using drones, or other means, to move illegal contraband and drugs into our prisons will face prosecution and penalties in the Middle District of Georgia.”

In April 2018, it was reported that customs officers in China had smashed a criminal gang that used drones to smuggle iPhones estimated to be worth $79.8 million from Hong Kong to the south-eastern city of Shenzhen.

In what was thought to have been the first recorded example of cross-border smuggling facilitated by drone in China, investigators detained 29 people on both sides of the border and seized two drones and thousands of Apple devices.

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Italian police arrest 23 suspects and recover 10,000 cultural items in archaeological trafficking crackdown

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archaeological trafficking crackdown

A major international police operation led by investigators in Italy has resulted in the recovery 10,000 stolen cultural items and the arrest of 23 suspected antiquities smugglers.

Operation Achei was led by the Italian national police force’s Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

The initiative involved input from several other agencies, including Europol and law enforcement organisations from a number of other countries, namely the UK, Germany and Serbia.

Police in Italy started a probe into the gang’s activities back in 2017 while investigating the looting of archaeological sites in Calabria, southern Italy, where valuable cultural items from the Greek and Roman period were being stolen.

Members of the gang are said to have used bulldozers and metal detectors to locate the items they stole, before selling them on to to a network of buyers across Europe.

Investigators discovered the smuggling network was being run by an organised crime group headed up by a pair of Italian nationals living in the province of Crotone.

The two ringleaders led a network of looters, fences, intermediaries and mules who operated from various locations across Italy, as well as key facilitators working in locations such as Djion, Munich, London and Vršac.

Detectives in Italy said they believe the gang was involved in the illicit trafficking of antique items including vases, jewellery and jars that dated back as far as the 4th century BC.

As well as the arrest of the 23 suspects, the operation also led to a further 80 individuals from the UK, France, Germany and Serbia being placed under investigation.

In a statement, Europol said: “The damage caused to the Italian cultural heritage by this criminal group is very significant as it the criminals were looting archaeological sites for many years.

“Europol Analysis Project FURTUM supported the investigation by coordinating the information exchange, holding several operational meetings, preparing the action day and providing on-the-spot analytical support in Italy to cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases.

“Eurojust supported the execution of the European Investigation Orders and arranged a coordination centre to follow the action in real-time.”

Back in July, a major operation run by Europol and Interpol targeting the trafficking of cultural artefacts involving customs and police officers from 29 countries resulted in the recovery of 18,000 items and the arrest of 59 suspects.

Operation Pandora III saw investigators carry out inspections and raids at numerous locations across the globe, making 49 arrests and imposing 67 administrative sanctions at auction houses, art galleries, museums and private houses.

 

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