MADE FREE Artisans working in Fair Trade Certified Factory

How Paying a Livable Wage Can Help Stop Human Trafficking Networks

When we think about combating human trafficking and modern slavery, our minds might jump to law enforcement action or international policies. However, one of the most effective tools in this fight might just be something seemingly ordinary: ensuring a livable wage for all workers. This measure touches on the roots of exploitation and can significantly disrupt human trafficking networks.


Economic empowerment is lethal to human trafficking.


What is Modern Slavery?

Modern slavery is a grave and pervasive issue that continues to exist around the globe today, not just a relic of the past. The Global Slavery Index estimates that modern slavery generates over $150 billion in illegal profits each year. Modern-day slavery refers to severe forms of exploitation that someone cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power. This includes, but is not limited to, human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, forced marriage, and child labor. 

Despite being illegal everywhere, modern slavery is widespread and can affect people of any age, gender, or race. It often thrives in industries that require low-skilled labor and in regions where enforcement of labor laws is weak, allowing unscrupulous employers and traffickers to exploit vulnerable populations.

Understanding the Impact of Poverty on Vulnerability

It's no secret that poverty is a breeding ground for exploitation. Workers who are struggling to meet basic needs are more susceptible to the traps set by traffickers. These include false promises of high-paying jobs, water, food, or better living conditions. As noted in a 2018 report by Walk Free Foundation and Gallup, individuals who find it "very difficult" to survive on their current income are more likely to end up in forced labor situations.


Human trafficking not only arises from but also perpetuates economic instability for individuals and communities. Traffickers frequently target those in financially vulnerable situations—people living in poverty, the unemployed, or those experiencing homelessness.

A United Nations analysis of over 200 human trafficking cases revealed that the "majority of victims were reportedly in a condition of economic need, characterized by an inability to meet basic needs, such as food, shelter or healthcare" at the time of their recruitment. This highlights the critical link between economic hardship and susceptibility to trafficking.

In industries known for their risk of modern slavery—like cocoa farming in West Africa, garment production in Bangladesh, or coffee cultivation in South America—paying a livable wage could mean the difference between freedom and exploitation. 

livable wage definition


A livable wage is defined as the minimum income necessary for a worker to afford a decent standard of living, including essential needs such as food, shelter, healthcare, and education for their family.

The Business Case for a Livable Wage

Paying a livable wage isn't just a moral imperative; it's good business sense. Companies that invest in fair wages report higher productivity, better employee retention, and reduced rates of absenteeism. Workers compensated fairly are less likely to seek additional employment to make ends meet, reducing the risk of falling prey to exploitative labor practices.

Tony Chocolony fair trade chocolate bar

For example, Tony’s Chocolonely, a Dutch chocolate company, pays an additional premium to the cocoa farmers from whom it sources. This not only helps the farmers achieve a better standard of living but also sets a market example that ethical practices are feasible and beneficial.

Ethical Supply Chains: Beyond Materials

Creating ethical supply chains involves more than just using sustainable materials; it demands attention to the human element of production. Every product has a human story, and as consumers, we hold the power to influence these narratives positively. 

supply chain graph

It's not enough to just focus on the sustainability of the materials used in the final product. Both consumers and companies tend to overlook the earlier stages of the supply chain. To ensure sustainable practices throughout the entire supply chain, it's crucial to consider all stages of production.

Every product goes through multiple stages before it reaches the consumer, including sourcing raw materials, production processes, and transportation. Each of these stages presents opportunities for ethical practices—or the lack thereof.

By choosing products from companies committed to fair wages, we can drive demand for ethical practices industry-wide. Establishing a livable wage is a fundamental step, but it's not the final goal. Continuous improvement is crucial. This includes promoting workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively, which empowers them to negotiate their conditions and wages effectively.


Consumer Role in Supporting Ethical Brands

Every purchase decision we make sends a message. By becoming informed about the brands that prioritize livable wages and support them, consumers can make a profound impact. It encourages more companies to follow suit, leading to a broader industry transformation toward fairness and equity. 

MADE FREE canvas tote bag and veg tanned leather tote bag

Pictured: The Made Free FOR HUMAN JUSTICE Market Tote and the Leather Day Tote 


Walk Free offers a host of tools available to consumers to promote awareness and advocacy around the supply chains of the products they purchase: 

Consumer awareness and advocacy can help ensure that companies remain committed to their ethical promises, pushing for transparency and accountability in supply chains.

Spotlight on the MADE FREE Model

MADE FREE sets a standard in ethical business practices by investing in economic empowerment and creating dignified work environments. Our commitment is manifested through our use of small factory teams that are either certified by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) or surpass its standards, ensuring safety and fairness for all involved.

MADE FREE factory artisan handcrafting bag

Central to our ethos is our unwavering commitment to livable wages. We strive to go beyond merely meeting minimum standards by ensuring that our workers enjoy a quality of life that safeguards them against the risks of modern slavery and human trafficking. Fair compensation is not just a benefit—it's a critical deterrent against exploitation. This strategy empowers our workers and their communities, reducing their susceptibility to exploitation and fostering economic independence.

By supporting and expanding the Made Free model, we are taking significant strides towards eradicating modern slavery and ensuring dignity and respect for workers globally. We invite consumers and businesses alike to join us in promoting a sustainable and just economic system by choosing to pay livable wages to their workers. 

Learn more about the stories of MADE FREE Makers 

The Global Ripple Effect

The benefits of implementing a livable wage extend far beyond individual workers. By reducing the vulnerability to exploitation, we can diminish the global incidence of modern slavery. This, in turn, contributes to more stable economies, lessens global poverty, and promotes human rights worldwide.

In conclusion, tackling human trafficking and modern slavery is a complex challenge that requires a multifaceted approach. Ensuring that all workers receive a livable wage is a crucial part of this strategy. It empowers workers, strengthens economies, and undermines the economic foundations of trafficking networks. 

As consumers, businesses, and members of the global community, we have a role to play in making this vision a reality. Let’s commit to contemplating ethical supply chains at every step, not just where it's visible.


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