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Merry or misery? Shoppers urged to avoid Christmas gifts linked to slavery

Awareness grows over forced and child labour used in a list of products from princess dolls to sparkly make-up.

Christmas holidaymakers have been warned by officials and campaigners not to inadvertently fund slavery with their gift lists as awareness grows over forced and child labour used in a list of products from princess dolls to sparkly make-up.

Festive goods ranging from toys to novelty jumpers to counterfeit designer bags may be produced using child slaves or other abused workers in often-complex global supply chains and consumers should be asking questions, experts said.

About 25 million people are estimated to be trapped in forced labour, according to the United Nation’s International Labour Organization (ILO), and anti-slavery campaigners said their work may be found in many popular gifts.

“We are all even more aware at Christmas that we are not all in the same situation - that you may be in a happier situation than someone else in the world,” said Suzanne Hoff at the anti-trafficking organisation La Strada International.

“It’s not only a good time of year to think about that but also to think ‘How I can I ensure that I don’t contribute to the further exploitation?’”

One of this year’s must-have toys may have been made by workers earning less than 1 pound ($1.26) an hour, it emerged.

Workers at a Chinese toy factory making Disney and Fisher-Price dolls worked illegal overtime and received no holiday or sick pay, according to an investigation by rights groups Solidar Suisse and China Labor Watch.

Neither Disney nor Mattel replied to requests for comment.

Let them know how much you love your new present and ask what they are doing to ensure the workers in their supply chains are not exploited.

Joanna Ewart-James, executive director, Freedom United

British government officials have warned that buying fake goods, from handbags to mobile phones, could support sweatshops and child labour.

“Border Force are at ports, airports, and mailing rooms, working hard to keep these knock-off goods out of the country, depriving criminals of illicit profits and keeping consumers safe,” Immigration Minister Caroline Noakes said in a statement.

Make-up, mobile phones and jewellery may all be tainted by slavery in the sourcing of raw materials, according to CORE, a UK-based watchdog on corporate accountability.

While embracing the trend for a novelty reindeer jumper might come with a heavy price as the clothing industry has been hit by repeated scandals over mistreating workers as demand for cheap fast fashion soars, according to the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee.

Even the Christmas dinner is not immune. Fruit and vegetables may have been produced using forced labour, with experts, including Britain’s anti-slavery body Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, warning agriculture workers are vulnerable to abuses including debt bondage.

After-dinner chocolates may come with a not-so-sweet aftertaste as plantations from Brazil to Ghana have been found to use child labour by various studies including by the Brazilian Federal Labor Prosecution Office and ILO.

Experts urged consumers to consider transparency over sourcing while doing any last-minute shopping and to press for change by asking brands what action they are taking.

“Why not take a moment whilst you’re watching telly on Boxing Day to write or reach out on social media to customer services of the brand of your favourite gift or two?” said Joanna Ewart-James, of the anti-slavery group Freedom United.

“Let them know how much you love your new present and ask what they are doing to ensure the workers in their supply chains are not exploited.”

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit

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