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September 20, 2019 5 min read

Today’s text is about a panel discussion on the subject of slavery in the supply chain. The panel was hosted by the Münster regional group of the International Justice Mission (IJM), the world’s largest organisation fighting against slavery. Lina, one of the initiators of the evening, wrote this article for you.

"Thank you, dear Lina".

I point the camera at the podium, open the aperture, reduce the ISO number so that the photos are optimally exposed. The room is slowly filling up with people and the tension is rising inside me: the excitement of seeing what this evening, which we have been planning in our university group for months, will lead to.
When we started looking for speakers, I met Barbara on a ride from Berlin to Bielefeld by a lucky coincidence and we were able to win her for the project. We reserved the room, wallpapered the Münster pubs with posters and informed ourselves about the topic: Sustainability in Supply Chain Management.

A bulky expression that, like an onion, irritates the justice-loving heart more and more from layer to layer and reveals how complex the problem of slavery in supply chains really is.

This is exactly what our university group "International Justice Mission (IJM) Campus Münster" deals with: the suffering of the more than 40 million people who still live in slavery today. Slavery means more than just precarious working conditions. Referring to the Additional Protocol to the UN Palermo Convention, it means the exploitation of one person against his or her will by another person using various means, such as threats of violence, deception, fraud or abuse. The International Justice Mission operates in affected areas, working with regional authorities to identify and free people from this suffering. IJM accompanies the affected people in the healing process as part of an after-care program and promotes law enforcement by providing lawyers to assist the people. Because what drives the slave owners is the economics of this trade and the low risk of being prosecuted for their actions – even though slavery is officially banned in all countries of the world.

Dietmar Roller, CEO of IJM Germany and Georg Hoffmann, Sustainability Manager of Ritter Sport, will sit on the podium alongside Barbara. Since 2018, Ritter Sport has only used 100% fairtrade certified cocoa for its chocolate. A courageous step that on the one hand requires intensive research into the origin of the raw materials used, but on the other hand, costs the company a lot of money. If one learns that children in the Ivory Coast are enslaved in cocoa cultivation, it is not a safe method to simply resort to the neighbouring states. The raw materials are passed from hand to hand and their origin is thus obscured. This is why Ritter Sport now purchases 64% of its cocoa directly from farmers without intermediate steps. Ritter Sport, for example, operates the world’s largest cocoa plantation in Nicaragua – the workers are paid above the local minimum wage and have access to further training opportunities.

The reason why Barbara fits into the group so well is obvious: Emerald is a great example of a company whose biggest goal is to promote justice. Primarily, of course, by publicising the work of NGOs, but also by offering fairly produced clothes.
Barbara brings broad knowledge of the textile industry. At the beginning she says that the problems start directly with seeds, the basic materials for clothing. Since it is easier for children to pick cotton than adults, children are systematically exploited in this area. "There should be no question of fair production at all. It should be self-evident," she says. Dietmar Roller agrees: "Instead, however, silence on this issue is unfortunately taken for granted, since profit maximisation is understood as the holy grail of the future".

We discuss the problem of small steps and branches in supply chains. Georg Hoffmann says that you have to take a look at everything that happens in your supply chain yourself. Once you see what the conditions are actually like, there is no way you will not be affected by it. Dietmar Roller thinks that companies need a will to assume ethical responsibility. "Many consumers don’t even know that for example micaceous is cultivated by bleeding children’s hands. The entrepreneurs, on the other hand, do", he says.

"A new market must be created in the long term. The decision in favor of sustainability must not be accompanied by market disadvantages", says Barbara, but at the same time points out that it is much easier for financially well-positioned companies to visit production on site and check every single step in the supply chain. Entrepreneurs need to be encouraged to be creative in new ways in social areas. Referring to this, Georg Hoffmann mentions a campaign by a Penny supermarket, "All products that would no longer exist if insects died out, were cleared from the shelves". Through such actions, one can direct the attention of the population purposefully on problems.

Quality labels are also problematic. "Today, everything is described as sustainable. Transparency is awarded, sometimes even before actual sustainability", explains Barbara.

"A major sports brand, on the other hand, which has already won the Stop Slavery Award of the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the past, is afraid to advertise with this award. They fear a marketing disaster if at some point a weakness in their supply chain is discovered. Unfortunately, as a company you can never be 100% sure that production is really fair," says Dietmar Roller. In this respect, however, it makes sense to stand by reality and admit where one still has problems as a company.

But the speakers also give hope. "Social entrepreneurship, which describes an entrepreneurial activity that is committed to solving social problems in the long term, is currently one of the fastest growing economic sectors", explains Barbara.

After the panel, the nearly 100 visitors, mainly students, had the opportunity to comment on the topic. "What can we do as consumers?" That’s the question that many people have on their minds after the stories about so much injustice. Georg Hoffmann’s answer is as simple as it is plausible: "The customer is king. Every purchase decision has a decisive influence on which values are perceived as relevant in the industry." Personally, I almost always prefer to buy a more expensive, but fairly produced favorite piece than three cheap products. "Sustainability can be fun if you learn to appreciate the things you have",concludes Barbara.

And what about us as the International Justice Mission Campus Münster? We are happy. Happy to have learned a lot of new things even that evening. Happy to have fulfilled our self-declared mission to educate people on the subject of slavery. Happy to see that we share our passion for people who are not as well off as we are with people from very different spheres of society – NGOs, the fashion world and food production.

At this point, we would like to thank Barbara once again. You have the persistence and the professionalism that it takes to assert yourself in the business world and at the same time, you carry a warmth within you for your fellow human beings that is contagious – By wearing your beautiful clothes, but also by getting, like us that night, into your colourful world of thoughts.

Best regards

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