This month, June 21st, a new law takes effect, and I have to say it is long overdue. The Forced Labor Prevention Act, while not perfect, is a massive step in the right direction. As someone whose politics puts them a bit to the left of Karl Marx, it is not often that I am surprised in a good way by the actions that our government takes (I’m sure many of you feel the same way). I want to give a massive shout-out to representative James Mcgovern, who introduced the bill. It is an issue near and dear to my heart and is something I wrote about frequently in past blogs. One of the consulting services we offer is to help companies remove ethically questionable ingredients from their supply chain, including those possibly made with slave and forced labor. You would be shocked (or not, if you had to listen to one of my rants in the past) to find out the horrors that go into making many of the ingredients that go into many dietary supplements.
This act, provided the lobbyists fail in delaying its implementation, will touch nearly every aspect of our economy, from clothing (expect to see substantial clothing shortages at many retailers) and food to supplements and cars. It works by toughening older forced labor laws. Rightfully, it puts the burden of proof on companies to prove that their materials are produced without slave labor, instead of the previous practice, which was to treat them as innocent until something is found, relying on self-policing, which never works. Regarding slavery and forced labor, requiring companies to prove that they are innocent is the way to go, not just believing what they say. Anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to trust that these massive corporations will do the right thing without being forced to is sorely mistaken.
There will be significant shortages in many industries because companies have ignored this issue or only paid lip service instead of rooting out materials made with slave labor from their supply chains.
The supplement industry is going to be hit pretty hard by this as the majority of ingredients in supplements come from China. Only a small handful of supplement companies make their own raw materials or partner directly with farmers, so most have little to no actual knowledge about the ingredients that go into making them. They mostly buy through middlemen who combine components from a wide variety of sources. Untangling where a batch of material came from when it is mixed from hundreds of different places is nearly impossible. For example, glucosamine is usually made from farmed shrimp shells. These shells are produced on farms that use large amounts of slavery. Shells from many different farms will be sent to a processing facility, mixed, and turned into glucosamine. Then companies will buy glucosamine powder for use in their supplements, but they have no contact with or ability to know where the shells came from.
After implementation, these shortages will take a few months to hit as companies sell through their current stock and raw material suppliers reorder. After that, prices will rise significantly for many companies selling very cheap products as they are forced to stop using cheap materials made with slave labor. They will try to blame this on inflation or other issues to avoid admitting what is happening. Some of them will switch to using other questionable materials from places not on the watch list yet. Hopefully, as more places and countries are added, they will gradually lose the ability to do this.
Let’s go through some examples of common ingredients in the supplement industry that will be affected by this (this is not a complete list by any means).
Cocoa and Cacao are in many products such as protein shakes and food powders. Unfortunately, it can be one of the trickiest ingredients to ethically source and the ingredient most often produced using slavery.
Green tea (white, green, and black tea are all the same plant) is a very popular ingredient in supplements. However, it is an ingredient with a long history of slavery.
Garlic is a great supplement with soo many benefits. Unfortunately, many garlic supplements come from a disturbing source.
Check out the Netflix show Rotten (season one, episode three) to learn more.
Glucosamine is used in a lot of joint supplements. It is usually made from farmed shellfish, especially shrimp. The farmed shrimp industry is rife with forced labor.
Tomatoes are used in various supplements, from greens powders to multivitamins and prostate formulas, using an ingredient called lycopene, which is generally made from tomatoes. Unbeknownst to many people, China is one of the largest suppliers of tomato ingredients. Italy, well known for its tomato products, also has a huge problem with forced labor on tomato farms.
Palm oil is an ingredient used in making many of the flow agents and fillers used in many supplements. You will often see names like magnesium stearate, stearic acid, and vegetable lubricant.
Check out our blog to learn more about the issues with palm oil.
While many companies claim to use RSPO palm oil as an ingredient, that seal has no real meaning and does not in any way mean that it is environmentally or ethically friendly. It is most often used as a cover for companies to pretend that their palm oil is environmentally friendly.
Cotton is used in a lot of supplement bottles to prevent the breakage of the capsules and other fragile components. Much of that cotton is produced using forced labor.
While a lot of cotton is produced with forced labor, some awesome companies, like Pact, make clothing with ethically sourced cotton.
So what’s the solution to the problem?
Companies need to start producing their raw materials or buying directly from farm producers who make their own. Middlemen are really not a great option for any company that wants to avoid using forced or slave labor.
Buying directly from farmers that can be visited, inspected, and audited is the best, easiest and simplest way for companies to begin the transition to verifiable, slave labor-free products. However, if a company buys from a middleman that mixes lots of sources, it is nearly impossible to untangle the web of suppliers. Companies need to accept that.
Another option is to buy from suppliers that are vertically integrated. This means they grow and produce their materials from seed to finished product. This makes for a straightforward chain of custody to verify.
Companies will need to choose to sacrifice some of their profits for the greater good. Is it not worth it to make a little bit less money to ensure a product is made without suffering? It’s not as though they are being asked to become poverty-stricken. Instead of a supplement that retails for fifty dollars, costing them five dollars to make, it might cost them seven or eight dollars. I think they will live. We should not be supporting companies that care more about money than ensuring they are not contributing to horrific suffering or child slavery.
Maybe someday we can have an economy that values human life over profits.
It is a big undertaking, and it is understandable that some companies, especially small ones, will not be able to make the switch overnight, especially those that use isolated and synthetic vitamins, because of the large amounts of inputs that go into making them. However, they should be putting in a reasonable effort and share what they are doing upon request. A great example of this is Tony’s Chocoloneys. Their goal is to end slavery in the chocolate industry. They recently audited their supply chain and found evidence of illegal labor being used. They publically announced these findings and have been hard at work cleaning up the problems in their supply chain. We need more companies willing to take this journey.
Fair Trade has never tasted so good!
What is Rooted Nutrition doing to avoid products made with slave labor?
Ethical sourcing is woven into everything we do. We have been going above and beyond what this law will require for a long time.
First up, we offer our consulting services free of charge to any companies we partner with to help them transition away from suspect materials to those that can be verified free of slave labor. By providing them with sources for these materials, we make it easy for them to switch over.
Second, we are continually replacing and improving the products we offer to further our goal of 100% farm-to-bottle products. Check out our blog about the farm-to-bottle project to learn more about the steps we have taken to ensure that slave labor is not used in any of the products we sell. Look for the symbol below on product pages to know that a product is traceable back to the farms, boats, and forests and is not made with slave labor. If you see a product without it, it means we have not 100% been able to verify it is free of slave labor, it does not mean it was necessarily made with slave labor but that we are currently working with the company to verify the supply chain or replace it with a product we can 100% verify. Every day we get a little bit closer to our goal of 100% verified!
You should not feel guilty if you bought products in the past made with forced labor. Most likely, all of us have. It is the company's fault for not ensuring a slavery-free supply chain. The onus should be on them to change their practices, and they should be forced to through regulations like the Forced Labor Prevention Act. If large companies change their behavior, it has a much more dramatic effect on the problem. We can help to force their hands by working to buy more ethically produced products.
What can you do to reduce your chances of buying products produced with forced or slave labor?
Check out this website, https://slaveryfootprint.org/, to see if things you currently use are made with forced labor.
Look for fair trade certified products.
Buy survivor-made goods. These companies are founded by people dedicated to helping survivors of slavery. A simple google search for survivor-made goods will give you plenty of options.
Buy used or refurbished products.
If you run a business, this is an excellent resource for identifying high-risk materials in your supply chain.
Support charities that are working to end slavery.
Download the Buycott app. The app allows you to set parameters of companies or issues you want to avoid, and then you can scan items to see if they are part of that problem.
Here is a link to a list of some certified slavery-free companies.