fashion brands destroy billions’ worth of their own merchandise every year

An expert explains why Burberry, H&M, Nike, and Urban Outfitters destroy unsold merch — and what it says about consumer culture.

The British luxury brand Burberry brought in $3.6 billion in revenue last year — and destroyed $36.8 million worth of its own merchandise.

In July 2018, the brand admitted in its annual report that demolishing goods was just part of its strategy to preserve its reputation of exclusivity.

Shoppers did not react well to this news. People vowed to boycott Burberry over its wastefulness, while members of Parliament demanded the British government crack down on the practice. The outrage worked: Burberry announced two weeks ago it would no longer destroy its excess product, effective immediately.

Yet Burberry is hardly the only company to use this practice; it runs high to low, from Louis Vuitton to Nike. Brands destroy product as a way to maintain exclusivity through scarcity, but the precise details of who is doing it and why are not commonly publicized. Every now and then, though, bits of information will trickle out. Last year, for example, a Danish TV station revealed that the fast-fashion retailer H&M had burned 60 tons of new and unsold clothes since 2013.

In May 2018, Richemont, the owner of the jewelry and watch brands Cartier, Piaget, and Baume & Mercier, admitted that in an effort to keep its products out of the hands of unauthorized sellers, it had destroyed about $563 million worth of watches over the past two years. Whistleblowing sales associates and eagle-eyed shoppers have pointed out how this practice happens at Urban Outfitters, Walmart, Eddie Bauer, Michael Kors, Victoria’s Secret, and J.C. Penny.

The fashion industry is often cited as one of the world’s worst polluters — but destroying perfectly usable merchandise in an effort to maintain prestige is perhaps the dirtiest secret of them all. To find out why this practice is so widespread and what conservation-minded shoppers can do to fight back, I spoke with Timo Rissanen, an associate dean at Parsons School of Design and a professor of fashion design and sustainability at the school’s Tishman Environment and Design Center. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

The True Cost: Who Pays the Real Price for YOUR Clothes | Investigative Documentary
The True Cost: Who Pays the Real Price for YOUR Clothes | Investigative Documentary from 2015
This is a story about clothing. It’s about the clothes we wear, the people who make them, and the impact the industry is having on our world. The price of clothing has been decreasing for decades, while the human and environmental costs have grown dramatically. The True Cost is a groundbreaking documentary film that pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing?
Filmed in countries all over the world, from the brightest runways to the darkest slums, and featuring interviews with the world’s leading influencers including Stella McCartney, Livia Firth and Vandana Shiva, The True Cost is an unprecedented project that invites us on an eye-opening journey around the world and into the lives of the many people and places behind our clothes.

Nike sweatshops: inside the scandal

Their brand celebrates humanity and all its potential, but Nike has a history of treating its workers as if they were not human at all.

In 1991, American labour activist Jeffrey Ballinger published a report on Nike’s factory practices in Indonesia, exposing a scandal: below-minimum wages, child labour and appalling conditions likened to a sweatshop – a factory or workshop where employees work long hours for low money in conditions that are hazardous to health.

US College student Jim Keady also delved into Nike’s inhumane production practices in the 90s, and in his film Behind the Swoosh exposed how workers, who were paid $US1.25 per day, were forced to live in slums near open sewers, and shared toilets and bathwater with multiple families.

And in 1996, Life magazine ran a reportage on child labour that included a shocking photo of a 12-year-old Pakistani boy sewing a Nike soccer ball.

Sweatshops are common in developing countries, including in Indonesia, India, Thailand, Bangladesh and Cambodia, where labour laws are rarely enforced.

The factories, which are often housed in deteriorating buildings, are cramped with workers and pose fire dangers. Workers are also restricted access to the toilet and drinking water during the day.

Behind the Swoosh

Have you ever wondered what it is like to live on a Nike sweatshop wage? Watch the award-winning short film, Behind the Swoosh, and see Jim Keady and Leslie Kretzu attempt to survive on a Nike worker’s wage in the industrial slums of Indonesia.

Lil Nas X’s Nike Satan Sneakers Have Human Blood in Them

Where did the sacrificial human blood that’s used in the Satan-themed Nike Air Max 97s that Lil Nas X is releasing today come from?

“Myself and some of my co-workers,” says Daniel Greenberg, a co-founder of MSCHF, the Brooklyn-based collective that created the shoes as a collaboration with the young rapper.

Like all of the projects MSCHF makes, the sneakers were designed to go viral. They fulfilled their destiny swiftly, appearing online over the weekend before their release and immediately generating headlines and furious tweets. Greenberg thrives on this kind of public reaction, although he is cryptic on one aspect of the shoes. He would not explain how he and the others at MSCHF collected the blood they claim is used.

“Not the best way, to say the least,” he says. “I could tell you; it’s just kind of graphic. But, like, not by any means a good way of doing it.”

The pentagram emblem and upside-down cross on the satanic MSCHF x Lil Nas X sneaker. Image via MSCHF

The custom Air Max 97s by MSCHF and Lil Nas X release at 11 a.m. EST on Monday morning here. Each of the 666 pairs is individually numbered. They are priced at $1,018, a reference to the Bible verse Luke 10:18, which reads, “He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’” The sneakers are decorated with a pentagram emblem and come in a graphic box referencing their satanic theme. They are black with red accents, the most notable being the ruby mixture of one drop of blood and 60 ccs of ink sloshing around in their midsoles.

Children of Heaven

After a boy loses his sister’s pair of shoes, he goes on a series of adventures in order to find them. When he can’t, he tries a new way to “win” a new pair.

Fast fashion – The shady world of cheap clothing | DW Documentary

Fast fashion has radically transformed the textile industry. These days, 56 million tons of clothing are sold every year. But cheap garments come at a high price: A precarious existence for workers and a catastrophic environmental impact.

The clothing industry is currently deluging the planet with garments. With 100 billion items produced every year, that’s more than ever before. International companies are locked in an ongoing race to create new styles and win higher profits.  And this gigantic expansion is set to continue: The sector is forecast to grow by 60 per cent by 2030.

On the one hand, fast fashion means affordable clothes for all. Zara is known as the original fast fashion brand. The Spanish clothing giant creates 65,000 new styles every year.

Shopping for clothes has become a veritable leisure activity stoked by social media: half of all Instagram posts are related to fashion and beauty. This is how market leaders in fast fashion influence their customers’ buying behavior, backed by relevant neuromarketing specialists.

Fast fashion profits from e-commerce. No more trying on clothes in the store, the customer orders online and has the garment delivered – and if they don’t like it, they just send it back. Throwaway clothes and throwaway work: carried out by an army of couriers within the precarious gig economy.

The textile industry is the sector with the world’s second-highest environmental price tag. Fast fashion manufacturers’ favorite material – viscose made from wood fibers – is marketed as a climate-friendly alternative. But producing this fabric uses a whole range of chemicals. This leads to serious health issues, not only for those working in the factories, but also for people living close by, for example in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
Every year in Europe, four million tons of clothing ends up in the trash. Less than one per cent of this is recycled. The fashion industry likes to parade its sustainability credentials, but the reality is quite the opposite.

Zara uses slave labour in Argentina

The Spanish fashion brand Zara is outsourcing its production in Argentina to clandestine sweatshops employing immigrants under slave-like conditions.

Zara is responsible for the same illegal and inhuman methods of exploitation in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where it was fined millions for the same offence it has been accused of in eleven other countries.

The sweatshops in Argentina are based on the outskirts of Buenos Aires or in tourist areas with large numbers of immigrants from Bolivia, lured by traffickers promising wages in dollars, housing, food and an eight-hour working day.

But, as denounced by the NGO “La Alameda” and the Human Rights Secretariat of the CGT, the country’s largest trade union confederation, the working hours are inhuman.

The criminal charges filed on 26 March and 11 April of this year, which were backed up shortly afterwards by Buenos Aires City Government inspectors, are based on hidden camera recordings showing that the workers sleep in bunk beds right next to the machines and are made to work for over 13 hours a day, from Monday to Friday from seven in the morning to ten or eleven o’clock at night, and until midday on Saturdays.

Electrical cables were also shown to be hanging precariously, creating the risk of fire, such as that seen in 2006, in which six Bolivians, five of them minors, died, trapped inside a clandestine sweatshop.

La Alameda has taken legal proceedings against 110 major clothing brands, including international firms such as Puma and Topper, and employers themselves have recognised that 78 per cent of the clothing industry operates illegally.

The same system of people trafficking and slavery has been denounced in Mexico, in the so-called maquilas, in Italy, in the Camorra sweatshops, and in the factory collapsed in Bangladesh.

The three clandestine sweatshops producing garments for Zara in Argentina were shut down by the government for not being registered and posing high health and safety risks.

The justice system has not yet confirmed the charges, despite their having been verified by the video footage and the government inspectors.

The public prosecutor investigating Zara has not yet summoned the producer to give a statement, the sweatshops have not been searched and the telephone lines thought to connect the brand with the illegal workshops have not been tapped.

It is worth pointing out that Inditex, which owns Zara, is the second largest textile company in the world, and its owner, Amancio Ortega, has the third biggest fortune on the planet and is the richest person in Spain.

Fast fashion at a human cost – Zara fashion retailer chooses sales over ethics

Zara, a brand of the Inditex Group, is one of the largest fashion retailers in the world, and a favourite for high street shoppers in Europe, with approximately 3000 stores spread across 96 different countries. But one important question to ask about this influential store is, just how ethical are their labour policies? Over the past few years, Zara has had numerous allegations filed against them for their forced labour and ‘slave labour’ conditions in its factories across countries such as Spain, Brazil, Argentina and Myanmar.

Over the past few months, many more fast fashion shoppers have come to realise the true harm that their shopping addiction has on the workers producing these items of clothing. Many more have even begun to boycott Zara specifically for its inappropriate association with forced labour camps in China and degrading working conditions in its Brazilian factories.

Fast fashion brands such as Zara, expose their workers to extremely harsh working conditions around the world. International companies such as Zara, H&M, Pretty Little Thing, Asos, Bershka and many more, hide their labour abuses behind a complicated line of supply chains, often in the world’s developing countries to ensure there are little labour regulations involved.

The issue lies with the international brands sourcing chains, where fashion brands outsource from foreign markets, mainly from South East Asia. This proves difficult for companies to monitor the rights of their workers directly, as they rely on second and third-hand suppliers.

Fashion and forced labour

In March 2021, Zara’s mother brand, Inditex, released a statement on their website that confirmed the company’s labour policies. Inditex Group stated that they “take a zero-tolerance approach towards forced labour of any kind and have stringent policies and actions in place to ensure that it does not take place anywhere in our supply chain”.

This statement had been visible on the company’s website until 25 March 2021 and was removed the next day. Inditex had explained the reasoning behind the removal of such an essential statement. After backlash hit many fast fashion brands, such as Zara, regarding their supply chains in the North-western region of China, Xinjiang, many statements separating production from forced labour factories in Xinjiang had been released.

Similarly, fast fashion brand H&M had also removed a statement condemning forced labour in Xinjiang, due to supposed confrontation with China over the continuation of their supply chains in the region. For many companies standing up against the forced labour taking place in China, the stakes are high, as they will indeed be choosing between sales or the ethics of their company. This is emphasized by the fact that China is the world’s biggest fashion market, meaning that many companies such as Zara and H&M have chosen to remove their statements on forced labour. Without the Chinese supply chains, many companies would not have received the growth that they had been working for.

This action is merely an example of one of the many brands, such as H&M, that have taken down statements due to pressure from China over its supply chains and cotton sourcing in the Xinjiang region. Zara’s actions can be due to intimidation received by other brands from China when condemning forced labour. Since 2016 the region has been rife with forced labour and re-education camps, with more than half of the population of the region made up of Uighur Muslims, approximately 12 million Uighurs.

These forced labour camps have been defended by the Chinese government by defining them as ‘job training centres’ that are working to benefit the Uighur population. However, despite heavy censorship and security, labour camps in Xinjiang subject workers to poor living and labour conditions, physical and mental abuse and forced sterilisation for Uighur women.

With Xinjiang being one of the leading producers of cotton in the world, it is extremely concerning when it comes to investigating brands such as Zara and their supply chain transparency. Most of these are education and job centres’ have been linked to cotton supply chains directly going to the most popular high street fashion brands.

Another example of abuses taking place under third party supply chains can be seen in Zara’s factories in Brazil. The fashion retailer is sourcing clothing from Brazilian factories that have been engaging in modern slavery conditions with workers working up to 16 hours a day. These Brazilian workers were additionally restricted with their freedom of movement and have been forced to work in cramped workshops in the city of Sau Paolo.

According to the investigations that have taken place throughout the past 8 years, the Brazilian workshop had risked Zara entering a list of companies engaging in slave labour conditions. With this, in 2015, Zara Brazil had also been found engaging in discriminatory labour practices, with the workshops banning the hiring of legal immigrants completely.

COVID-19 and its effects

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zara employees had found themselves devastated by the treatment they had been receiving. While the pandemic served many employees in Zara’s factories in Spain well, employees in the Myanmar factories had been hit extremely hard.

In Spain, Zara had been presented as a hero with the coming of the pandemic, with 11 of its clothing factories being switched to production of personal protective equipment (PPE) by Amancio Ortega, the billionaire founder of parent company Inditex. These new factories had now produced masks, hospital gowns and imported ventilators for the Spanish hospitals. During this time, however, the voices of Zara’s employees overseas were not heard. The workers who were in need of sanitary working conditions and healthcare equipment had been stripped of it by the very owner that had been producing them in Spain.

Investigations for “crimes against humanity”

On the 2nd of July, prosecutors in France opened an investigation into four of the world’s leading fast fashion brands, one of them being Inditex, the owner of Zara. These investigations have been opened on Japanese fast retailer Uniqlo, Skechers, SMPC and Inditex for allegations of engaging in “crimes against humanity” in China’s Xinjiang region.

These brands are now under investigation due to the accusations that they have been working in China and exploiting the Uyghur population in Xinjiang through forms of forced labour. Yet, these brands have further denied any links of their production to the forced labour camps in China.

Zara’s owner, Inditex strongly rejected the claims made against them and continues to exclaim that they have zero tolerance for all forms of forced labour, with established policies and procedures put in place to make sure such labour violations do not take place throughout the supply chain.

Workers caught under Zara’s supply chain in China have been reported to be working in fenced-in factories, both indoors and outdoors, with every move surveillance. Furthermore, many of these workers are stripped from their families and taken far from their places of residence, thus making them more vulnerable and prone to the labour rights abuses taking place. Moreover, these workers receive daily threats, intimidation and coercion towards them and their families to ensure their silence is everlasting.

H&M, Amazon and Boohoo among retailers to be quizzed by MPs over Uyghur slave labour links

The bosses of retail giants including H&M, Amazon and Boohoo have been summoned to give evidence to a committee of MPs investigating the use of slave labour in the supply chains of UK companies.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) committee is probing the extent to which businesses in the UK are exploiting the forced labour of persecuted Uyghur Muslims at work camps in the Xinjiang region of China.

It has been estimated that 1m Uyghur Muslims are being held in internment camps in the northern Chinese province.

The committee has written to 14 firms to question them over potential supply chain links to slave labour in the region, including Gap, Ikea, Zara and M&S.

It has also asked sportswear brands Adidas, Nike and Puma to give evidence, as well as upmarket brands Victoria’s Secret, Stella McCartney and the North Face.

Tiktok and the Walt Disney Company are also among the companies that have been summoned to be quizzed by the committee over slave labour at a public hearing on 5 November.

The letters include questions around supply-chain transparency and ask the firms for evidence of compliance with labour, procurement and anti-slavery laws.

Nusrat Ghani MP, the lead BEIS committee member for the inquiry, said : “These businesses are trusted by many British consumers and I hope they will repay this faith by coming forward to answer these questions and also take up the opportunity to give evidence to the Business Committee in public.

“There have been a series of accounts of products being sold in the UK which can be traced back to forced labour at camps in China.

“On the BEIS Committee, we want to get a clearer sense of the extent of this problem, how seriously businesses ask questions of their own supply and value-chains, and to also examine the steps both government and business could take to ensure that businesses and consumers in the UK do not perpetuate the forced labour of Uyghur.”

Uyghurs for sale

‘Re-education’, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang.

What’s the problem?

The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority1 citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen.

This report estimates that more than 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019, and some of them were sent directly from detention camps.2 The estimated figure is conservative and the actual figure is likely to be far higher. In factories far away from home, they typically live in segregated dormitories,3 undergo organised Mandarin and ideological training outside working hours,4 are subject to constant surveillance, and are forbidden from participating in religious observances.5 Numerous sources, including government documents, show that transferred workers are assigned minders and have limited freedom of movement.6

China has attracted international condemnation for its network of extrajudicial ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang.7 This report exposes a new phase in China’s social re-engineering campaign targeting minority citizens, revealing new evidence that some factories across China are using forced Uyghur labour under a state-sponsored labour transfer scheme that is tainting the global supply chain.

Study: Nike, Apple, BMW Among 83 Brands Using Chinese Muslim Slave Labor

A report published Sunday by an Australian think tank revealed that as many as 83 internationally known brands – including Nike, BMW, Apple, Sony, Google, Lacoste, and Nintendo – have active ties to factories where evidence suggests the Communist Party has shipped Uyghur Muslims to engage in forced labor.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a non-partisan think tank, revealed in its study that it had significant evidence of the Chinese communist regime shipping ethnic Uyghurs out of their native Xinjiang, or East Turkestan, to factories nationwide, where they endured long hours, barely received pay, and did not appear to be able to move freely.

For the past two years, China has built up dozens of concentration camps in Xinjiang, its largest and westernmost province, where between 1 million to 3 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim ethnic minorities were forced to live, enduring indoctrination, torture, rape, and murder. In December, the Chinese government – which always referred to the concentration camps as “vocational training centers” – announced that the concentration camp victims had “graduated” from “vocational training” and left the camps.

ASPI concludes that the “graduates” were shipped to factories nationwide against their will to endure arduous labor manufacturing products for software companies, car parts, shoes, and other items. When their work shifts concluded, the study found evidence that the workers were then forced to endure the same sort of indoctrination they found at the Xinjiang camps – learning Mandarin (a language not native to Xinijang), memorizing Communist Party songs, and idolatry of dictator Xi Jinping.

“The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country,” ASPI revealed. “Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen.”

The report specifically identified 27 factories outside of Xinjiang that publicly identify as building goods or parts of goods for the companies mentioned, and are thus part of the corporations’ supply chains. Most of those companies – with the notable exception of companies the U.S. has banned from business there, like Huawei – operate in the United States, meaning American consumers have access to the products in part made by Uyghur slaves.

These Brands Are Still Linked to Uyghur Forced Labor. Help Stop Them Now

In March 2020, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published a report titled “Uyghurs For Sale”, which revealed a vast network of companies complicit in the use of Uyghur forced labor throughout China. The ASPI found that 27 factories across nine Chinese provinces used the labor of Uyghurs forcibly transferred from Chinese-occupied East Turkestan since 2017. 83 global companies and brands are directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur forced laborers in these factories.

Since the release of the ASPI’s report, numerous companies and brands have released statements regarding their connections to Uyghur forced labor, with some taking direct action to end their complicity in supply chains corrupted by modern day slavery.

However, a vast majority of implicated brands and companies have not taken any steps to address their ties to Uyghur forced labor. They are grouped into different categories and listed below. Any dollar that goes to these brands is a dollar that goes into the factories profiting off of Uyghur forced labor. Do not buy products made with the tears of modern-day Uyghur slaves.

As of April 2021, the following global companies and brands are profiting from their use of modern day Uyghur slavery.

Exposed: Child labour behind smart phone and electric car batteries

Major electronics brands, including Apple, Samsung and Sony, are failing to do basic checks to ensure that cobalt mined by child labourers has not been used in their products, said Amnesty International and Afrewatch in a report published today.

The report, This is what we die for: Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt, traces the sale of cobalt, used in lithium-ion batteries, from mines where children as young as seven and adults work in perilous conditions.

“The glamourous shop displays and marketing of state of the art technologies are a stark contrast to the children carrying bags of rocks, and miners in narrow manmade tunnels risking permanent lung damage,” said Mark Dummett, Business & Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International.

“Millions of people enjoy the benefits of new technologies but rarely ask how they are made. It is high time the big brands took some responsibility for the mining of the raw materials that make their lucrative products.”

The report documents how traders buy cobalt from areas where child labour is rife and sell it to Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese mineral giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd (Huayou Cobalt).

Amnesty International’s investigation uses investor documents to show how Huayou Cobalt and its subsidiary CDM process the cobalt before selling it to three battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea. In turn, they sell to battery makers who claim to supply technology and car companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, Daimler and Volkswagen.

Fatal mines and child labour

The DRC produces at least 50% of the world’s cobalt. One of the largest mineral processors in the country is Huayou Cobalt subsidiary CDM. Huayou Cobalt gets more than 40% of its cobalt from DRC.

Miners working in areas from which CDM buys cobalt face the risk of long-term health damage and a high risk of fatal accidents. At least 80 artisanal miners died underground in southern DRC between September 2014 and December 2015 alone. The true figure is unknown as many accidents go unrecorded and bodies are left buried in the rubble.

Amnesty International researchers also found that the vast majority of miners spend long hours every day working with cobalt without the most basic of protective equipment, such as gloves, work clothes or facemasks to protect them from lung or skin disease.

Children told Amnesty International they worked for up to 12 hours a day in the mines, carrying heavy loads to earn between one and two dollars a day. In 2014 approximately 40,000 children worked in mines across southern DRC, many of them mining cobalt, according to UNICEF.

Paul, a 14-year-old orphan, started mining at the age of 12. He told researchers that prolonged time underground made him constantly ill:

“I would spend 24 hours down in the tunnels. I arrived in the morning and would leave the following morning … I had to relieve myself down in the tunnels … My foster mother planned to send me to school, but my foster father was against it, he exploited me by making me work in the mine.”

“The dangers to health and safety make mining one of the worst forms of child labour. Companies whose global profits total $125 billion cannot credibly claim that they are unable to check where key minerals in their productions come from,” said Mark Dummett.

“Mining the basic materials that power an electric car or a smartphone should be a source of prosperity for miners in DRC. The reality is that it is a back-breaking life of misery for almost no money. Big brands have the power to change this.”

Following the supply chain – corporate shame

Amnesty International and Afrewatch researchers spoke to 87 current and former cobalt miners, 17 of them children, from five mine sites in southern DRC in April and May 2015. They also interviewed 18 cobalt traders and followed vehicles of miners and traders as they carried cobalt ore from mines to markets where larger companies buy the ore. The largest of them is Huayou Cobalt’s Congolese subsidiary CDM.

Huayou Cobalt supplies cobalt to three lithium-ion battery component manufacturers Ningbo Shanshan and Tianjin Bamo from China and L&F Materials from South Korea. These three battery component manufacturers bought more than US$90 million worth of cobalt from Huayou Cobalt in 2013.

Amnesty International then contacted 16 multinational consumer brands listed as direct or indirect customers of the three battery component manufacturers. None said they had been in touch with Huayou Cobalt or traced where the cobalt in their products had come from prior to Amnesty International’s contact.

The report shows that companies along the cobalt supply chain are failing to address human rights risks arising in their supply chain.

Today there is no regulation of the global cobalt market. Cobalt does not fall under existing “conflict minerals” rules in the USA, which cover gold, coltan/tantalum, tin and tungsten mined in DRC.

“Many of these multinationals say they have a zero tolerance policy for child labour. But this promise is not worth the paper it is written when the companies are not investigating their suppliers. Their claim is simply not credible,” said Mark Dummett.

Democratic Republic of Congo: “This is what we die for”: Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt

This report documents the hazardous conditions in which artisanal miners, including thousands of children, mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It goes on to trace how this cobalt is used to power mobile phones, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices. Using basic hand tools, miners dig out rocks from tunnels deep underground, and accidents are common. Despite the potentially fatal health effects of prolonged exposure to cobalt, adult and child miners work without even the most basic protective equipment. This report is the first comprehensive account of how cobalt enters the supply chain of many of the world’s leading brands.

Child Labor In African Mines

Mining is one of the most hazardous forms of child labor. It is physically dangerous and strenuous, exposes children to unstable underground heavy equipment and structures, toxic and explosive chemicals, and heat. The dangers to health and safety make it unfit for children under any circumstances.

Precious minerals such as gold and diamonds top the list of minerals mined by about one million children in Africa between the ages of 5 and 17 for less than $2 per day. In cases where they are not paid, children receive only food as payment for a day’s work.

Human Rights Watch revealed in a report that about 12,000 children, some as young as 8, are working in artisanal and small-scale gold mines in Tanzania, while in Ghana thousands of children between the ages of 12 and 17, and some as young as 9, continue to work in hazardous conditions in unlicensed gold mines. In Mali and Burkina Faso, children represent between 30 to 50 percent of the small scale mining workforce and work between 12 to 15 hours a day in the artisanal gold mining sector. New developments have also pointed to the fact that children miners may be involved in mining conflict minerals. A 2016 report by Amnesty International shows that children are at the heart of the supply of conflict minerals used in many electronics. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, cobalt mined by child laborers has been traced to the supply chains of major tech companies like Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, and some manufacturers like Volkswagen. In the Central African Republic, children as young as 11 work alongside adults in the blood diamond trade.

Due to the unregulated and illegal nature of most artisanal mining activities, as well as the absence of protective structures, children are exposed to illnesses, injuries, and even death from falling rocks and pit collapses, sharp objects, and mercury poisoning. Girls, are exposed to sexual harassment and the pressure to engage in the sex trade, which also exposes them to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

Most child miners are not enrolled in schools and work in the mines all year round, missing out on education, important life skills, and other job options in the future. Child miners who are enrolled in school often work 10 to 12 hours during the weekends and school holidays, and sometimes before and after school hours. As a result, they often struggle to keep up with school work. In Tanzania for instance teachers in mining communities constantly report low attendance levels in their schools. Similarly, in Ghana, about 35 percent of child miners do not go to school, while 32 percent do not attend regularly.

Child Labor Tarnished Jewelry

Because of the health and safety concerns associated with the work, the use of children in gold and diamond mining falls under the worst forms of child labor and oppressive child labor categories.


According to the United Nations, between 15 to 20 million individuals work in the gold mining industry. Child labor often occurs in the artisanal and small-scale mining operations (ASM) that take place in poorer areas. Unlike industrial mines, ASMs are rife with child labor since they are not as heavily regulated. About 20% of the gold mined every year come from ASMs.

In Burkina Faso, Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, orphaned children spend 12 to 15 hours a day panning for gold. In Mali, Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 20,000 children work in gold mining. Adult miners dig holes at least 20 feet below ground level. Using picks, the adult workers chip away at the rock and fill bags with pieces of rock that may or may not contain gold. The children stay above ground and pull up these heavy bags, day in and day out. Carrying these loads often results in back pain and spinal injuries. At the end of the work day, the children are not paid. Instead, they bring home a bag of rocks with the hope that there’s a piece of gold somewhere in the pile of dirt and debris.

Next to the mines and, at times, right outside their homes, people refine gold ore by burning the mercury and gold together. The vapor that emerges attacks the nervous system, leads to intoxication and may even cause death. Once the mercury is burned off, the piece of gold that’s left is ready to be sold. Middle men purchase the gold at an incredibly low price.

In the diamond mines of Angola, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe, child laborers don’t fare much better. Though the brutal civil wars in those countries have ceased, militias and rebel groups still control most of the mines. Members from these groups force children to work and threaten those who refuse with beatings and death threats.

In Sierra Leone, children typically suffer from malaria because they are immersed in shallow waters for the entire work day. Though paid $1.00-$2.00 a day, these children suffer even more as they face health problems and are unable to go to school.

De Beers – Rulers of the Diamond Industry

A Brief Overview of the Diamond Industry

• Diamond market is estimated to be $30B / year
• Diamonds have no practical use to the normal person
    – Jewelry diamonds would be worth $2-30 if used industrially   
• The price of diamonds do not actually reflect their true scarcity (or lack of)
• Price of diamonds have remained surprisingly stable

De Beers

• Historically owned 85% share of the diamond market
• Owns both mines and main distribution system, Central Selling Organization
    – Mine and trading companies owned by subsidiaries with generic names
• Known for influencing supply and demand to control prices

Tactics to Control Supply – Distribution

• Majority of diamonds from mines sold to DeBeers
    – External buying offices compete with purchasers buying from outside
• Company sells them 10 times a year at “sights”
    – De Beers has sole power to determine how many diamonds to sell and at what price
    – Vast amounts of research done
• 125 – 250 “sightholders” invited to CSO to purchase diamonds

The Iron Hand of De Beers

• Sightholders virtually powerless at sights
    – Can only accept or reject boxes
    – Not allowed to negotiate
    – Not allowed to sell to retailers who will lower prices
    – Must give De Beers information about market and inventory
    – De Beers has the right to come and audit them
• Diamond supply is their punishment/reward
    – ” Perhaps you’ve been slightly naughty, but let’s see what we can do next time.” – said to a disappointed sightholder who disobeyed the rules
Israel Incident
• In 1970s, Israeli merchants hoarded diamonds during a period of high inflation to try to profit
    – Created a shortage, driving prices up
• De Beers was concerned they no longer had control of supply in market
– Once the hoard was dumped into market, prices would drop and they would no longer be “rare”
• To force Israelis to sell their inventories, De Beers:
– Charged temporary surcharges at CSO, to create sudden price fluctuations and make speculation risky
– Allocated 20% less diamonds to Israelis
– Banned Israeli sightholders from sights
• Israelis ending up selling their stocks and following De Beer’s orders Anticompetitive Tactics

Anticompetitive Tactics
• If price of diamonds are falling, De Beers will:
    – Hoard inventory by selling less
        • Accumulated $2B in diamonds in 1984 after allowing prices to rise too much and a sudden sell off in the market and $5B in 1990s
    – Charge higher prices to sightholders
• If new suppliers emerge, it will:
    – Flood the market with similar diamonds at below market prices

Zaire Incident
• Zaire was not satisfied with CSO’s sales conditions
• Decided to sell on the industrial diamond free market
• De Beers responded by flooding the market with similar diamonds at below market prices
• Zaire came back to De Beers to ask for readmission into cartel
    – De Beers accepted and offered even worse terms

Controlling Demand
• Highly effective advertising
– Over 70% of American women own at least one diamond
– Done through movies, magazines, celebrities, even British Royal Family
– Used to shift focus on types of diamonds company wants to sell

• “A Diamond is Forever”
– Campaign used to convince people not to sell or buy used diamonds

Blood Diamonds vs. Conflict Diamonds: What’s the Difference?

“In America, it’s bling bling, but out here it’s bling bang.” If you’ve seen Blood Diamond you’ll recognize this quote by diamond smuggler Danny, played by Leonardo Dicaprio- he’s referring to the mined diamond industry of course. Set in Sierra Leone during the civil war of 1991, the movie made the public aware of conflict diamonds- the truth was our adored sparkly gems were actually being used to fund wars in Africa! The diamond industry was forced to switch gears and market themselves as conflict-free, and with the help of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), they were able to keep consumers feeling good about buying the sought-after gems. What the Kimberly Process didn’t do was address blood diamonds- yes, they are a different thing entirely! If you search for either blood or conflict diamonds on the web you will notice they are used interchangeably. Well, we are here to help you learn the difference!

What is a conflict diamond? A diamond used by rebel forces to fund war. What is a blood diamond? A diamond mined by someone who could have been enslaved, tortured, raped, beaten, killed, or all of the above.

Kimberley Process Certification: is my earth-mined diamond ethical?

The problem is that having the Kimberley Process certification doesn’t ensure your diamond is ethical by any means. Even if you do end up with a certified “conflict-free” diamond, the likelihood that someone was raped, murdered, or enslaved for you to wear it is still very likely the case. The Kimberley Process definition of a conflict-diamond is far too narrow- a “rough diamond mined in an area controlled by insurgent forces whose sale is used to finance anti-government military action.” This doesn’t take into account any of the human abuse involved in mining diamonds! Furthermore, conflict earth-mined diamonds are often smuggled and mixed in with batches of conflict-free diamonds and their origin is lost in the process. In the Central African Republic alone, experts from the United Nations estimate that after diamonds from the area were banned, $28 million worth were smuggled out of the country and made their way into the hands of unsuspecting consumers.

Stanford University’s Stephen Press explained: “Most diamonds cannot reliably be traced to their origin. Moreover, they can be cut, reshaped, or reclassified in registers in order to obscure their origins, whether illicit or licit. Consumers broadly don’t appreciate the extent to which this is possible. Smugglers and governments have methods to get around detection.” In the end, earth-mined diamonds can change hands as many as ten times before diamond cutters polish them for final sale. If you’ve ever played the game telephone then you know that after a few people, the original message is lost. In this case, the origin of the diamond is lost- you can never be sure your diamond is actually conflict-free. And if you can’t be sure of that then you also can’t be sure you aren’t purchasing a blood diamond!

Being conflict-free does not take into account the harm done to the children and adults in mining communities that are forced to work, threatened with violence, and unable to pursue other sustainable means of income. Many children are sent to the mines instead of school to support their families, only making $1-3 a day! Mining for diamonds is backbreaking work and child abuse, and that skates through the Kimberley Process because the proceeds from that diamond sale didn’t go to fund a local warlord.

While a diamond may be certified conflict-free by the Kimberley Process, blood diamonds are still circulating in today’smarket. In May of 2021, Petra Diamonds, one of the largest diamond mining companies in the world, had to pay damages of “$5.97 million to Tanzanian miners who suffered human rights abuses, including being shot, beaten, stabbed, detained in filthy cells and handcuffed to hospital beds.” Do you want to risk wearing a mined diamond knowing that the origin could have a cruel and vicious history?

But diamonds are not the only problem. The conditions for mining gold are equally abhorrent. Approximately $2 billion in gold is produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo annually, coming from the country’s 1,500 gold mines. Shockingly, only 106 have been certified to not use forced labor. Rape is also rampant in this country where it’s estimated 1,152 women are raped each day- that equates to 48 each hour. The majority of these rapes occur near the mines as a means to show control by those running the mines, and to instill fear in the residents to gain submission.

Farm Attacks or ‘White Genocide’? Interrogating the unresolved land question in South Africa

Dr Adeoye O. Akinola is a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Johannesburg. He obtained a doctorate in Political Science from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in South Africa. He was a Lecturer at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in Nigeria, a Post-Doctoral Fellow at UKZN and the University of Zululand, and a Visiting Professor at the United Nations University for Peace (UPEACE) Africa Programme in Addis Ababa.

Apartheid South Africa was noted for historical land dispossession, domination by the white group and disempowerment of the black population. Post-apartheid South Africa has struggled to address the land-related structural and physical violence in the country. Despite the implementation of land reform programmes since 1994, land inequality and impoverishment of black South Africans persist. The government’s failure to use land reform as instrument for socio-economic empowerment has engendered frustrations among those craving for land reform. This has found expression in farm attacks and murders. The subsequent instability in the farming sector and the categorisation of farm attacks as ‘white genocide’ have demonstrated the acute dynamics of the conversation, and the urgency to combat farm attacks, ameliorate the racial discourse and resolve the land question. Through unstructured interviews with key actors involved in the land and farm conflicts, the article engages the land attacks and ‘white genocide’ discourses and provides a more nuanced understanding of conflict recurrence in South Africa. It is claimed that unequal access to land and other intrinsic factors account for the destruction of lives and property on farms. It is concluded that, while white farmers are the major victims of farm murder, a conceptualisation of such as ‘white genocide’ does not adequately characterise the reality. One step among others would be for the government to inaugurate a ‘Panel of the Wise’, comprised of well-respected elders from all races, who would contribute to land reform and conflict-resolution strategies for the farms and agricultural sector.


Land is a decisive factor in the South African socio-political and economic spheres. It is ‘a signifier of both material resources and collective identity (family, clan, community and nation), and thus a tenaciously unsettled matter of concern in contemporary South Africa’ (Walker 2017:22). The land and agricultural sectors are historically divided between the white group (who are predominantly owners of farms and land) and black South Africans (who are farm labourers and mostly landless). During colonialism and apartheid, Africans were disposed of land and restricted to the former ‘homelands’ and Bantustans, which were unliveable, and tagged an ‘ecological Hiroshima’ (Resane 2018:3).

After apartheid, the minority white population owned 87 per cent of the entire land (Walker and Dubb 2013). In 1996, South Africa was home to 40.5 million people (Black – 76,7 per cent, White – 10,9 per cent, Coloured – 8,9 per cent, Indian/Asian – 2,6 per cent, and Unspecified/other – 0,9 per cent) (Lahiff 2007:3). By 2012, the white group owned 67 per cent of the land, black communal areas comprised 15 per cent, the state owned 10 per cent, while 8 per cent was used for other purposes, including urban areas (Walker and Dubb 2013). Land inequality during apartheid and at present has engendered ‘systematic denudation and impoverishment of African people’ (Department of Rural Development and Land Reform 2011:3). Bob (2010:50) maintains that unequal access to social resources results from socio-economic and political processes that concentrate resources in the hands of the minority.

White farmers killings in Africa | VPRO Documentary
In the countryside of South Africa, the white farmer is still at the helm, as if nothing had changed after the abolition of Apartheid. But there is unrest in the townships. How long can the farmers imagine themselves to be a chosen people?
When Bram interviews him, Julius Malema sounds pretty reasonable. White farmers do not have to be afraid, says the politician who started ANC for himself after a career in governing party ANC. Their knowledge is very valuable. He only wants to ensure through sales that much more land comes into the hands of black farmers.
Malema sounds slightly different on stage. He calls for example: If we have to die to claim our country, then that is only true. Or even: Shoot to kill! Kill the farmer! He gives a voice to the frustration that many blacks have. Twenty years after the abolition of Apartheid, little has changed in rural areas. Almost all the land is in the hands of whites. How do they themselves think about it?
In a village where Bram has been more often, the atmosphere is bitter. There has just been a robbery, the umpteenth. Every farmer has firearms, high fences and steel doors here. And there is patrolled at night. Are farmers the victims of ordinary crime, or are they conscious attempts to drive them from the land they have been living on for generations?
They are convinced of the latter themselves. A farmer’s wife: “They want to frighten us. They break in and wait until you come home. Then they shoot the man and rape the woman. “But these emigrants do not think of emigration. Not even after a violent robbery: “I was born here and I will be buried here.”
The black residents of the area are also embittered. Life is bad here, says a man. He has no job – the farmers prefer to hire servants from other countries in Africa, because according to them they work harder and do not drink. In the stone house that he received as compensation for a shooting, he can not flush the toilet due to lack of water. And through the fences that are everywhere in the surrounding country, he feels as if he is locked up. He also thinks he can not live anywhere else than here.
Does Julius Malema get his way and the white domination of the South African countryside becomes something of the past? For the time being, he certainly does not have the say, because at the elections in May this year his party won 6.35 percent of the votes. The ANC almost ten times as much, so that party is still supreme.