Federal minimum wage is legal slavery

14 hours of work per day, 3 euros per hour These modern slaves work for you too

We are all slave owners. That is the message of the website slaveryfootprint.org. When SWR author Birgit Borsutzky determined her personal "slavery footprint" there, she received a striking message: 52 slaves are working for you! That can't be - can it? A search for clues.

Work slaves are being exploited in the middle of Europe

There are the African refugees in southern Italy who work 10 to 14 hours a day picking tomatoes. For three euros an hour. Employed by criminal middlemen called "Caporali" who withhold part of this wage, for example for transport by minibus and food. The workers are free to go and yet trapped - because they do not get any other legal work.

Farmers in Puglia, on the other hand, like to use the cheap harvest workers because they have to calculate hard themselves: The prices that wholesalers and supermarkets pay for tomatoes are low.

Almost 60 percent of the tomatoes imported into Germany are made by workers who live under these or similar conditions, estimates Yvan Sagnet, who himself worked as a picker and fights against the system of exploitation with his own plantation and sales company.

Whoever produces the cheapest gets the order

Modern slaves also work in Serbia. They produce clothing and shoes for Italian and German companies, including many luxury brands, according to employees of the “Clean Clothes Campaign”. Many a shoe that is made here costs just under 400 euros in the store.

Spomenka Zivulovic glued shoe parts together on an assembly line at a former subcontractor of an Italian shoe manufacturer. She says that the employees had to work overtime in order to achieve the required target and still earn less than the minimum wage.

Two to three days of vacation a year

Under normal conditions, they would be entitled to 20 days of vacation. Zivulovic got two or three days off a year - unpaid. If the inspectors came, the work slaves would have had to hide in the warehouse or in cars.

When asked by SWR, the shoe company replied that its managers were not aware of this company. In the glossy world of corporations, the work slaves are invisible.

How can you prevent modern slavery?

What can we as consumers do against such conditions? Buying fair trade goods is one approach, textile seals like the green button are a second. But the responsibility must not only lie with us consumers, says Julia Otten from the Germanwatch organization: "I cannot influence the purchasing of an automobile company or an energy supplier in detail, at least not so directly and directly through my consumption."

We need macroeconomic regulation and also certain rules of the game that we have to set for everyone. We cannot regulate this through demand alone.

Julia Otten, Germanwatch organization

A supply chain law should hold companies accountable

Human rights organizations therefore consider it an important political task to make the supply chains from the raw material to the finished product more visible in order to be able to better control the suppliers and sub-contractors.

France already has a law that allows companies to be held accountable when suppliers violate human rights. Federal Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) and Development Minister Gerd Müller (CSU) announced in December 2019 that they would formulate key points for such a supply chain law for Germany.