In Episode 7 of Series 5, Todd is joined by John Gathergood, Professor of Economics at the University of Nottingham, and Genevieve LeBaron, Professor of Politics at the University of Sheffield. John’s research focuses on understanding consumer behaviour in financial markets, and more recently the impact of the COVID19 pandemic on households. Genevieve’s work is at the forefront of the emerging evidence base on forced labour, human trafficking, and slavery in the global economy.
In this episode, the discussion focusses on the interaction between the broader goals of SDG 8 and target SDG 8.7, which focuses on ending modern slavery by 2030.
Todd begins the discussion by asking John to give an overview on the drivers of economic growth and the benefits of trade.
Growth is seen as the result of a combination of technological evolution and the development of skills leading to increasingly efficient production processes However, the benefits of growth are not evenly distributed This leads to the creation of winners (the owners of capital and the organisers of production) and losers (those not in control of production processes) In John’s view the current COVID pandemic has brought this inequality more sharply into focus, along with the need to ensure that economic growth does not come at the expense of exploitation of certain labour groups.
05.00 – 07.33
Todd asks John about the role of trade and John say it is fundamental in generating growth. He points out that:
One of the foundations of the capitalist system is trade and specialisation. Trade facilitates specialisation and growth There have been waves of globalisation throughout history (often associated with pandemics) The last 30 years have seen the largest international movement of capital affecting the location of production and the development of increasingly complex supply chains, which has been good for growth However, he adds that the fragmentation of production has exacerbated inequality, made complex supply chains very difficult to monitor, and susceptible to labour exploitation.
07.33 – 10.36
In Genevieve’s view, discussions on growth often overlook the business models at the centre of the mass production, fast turnover retail sector producing cheap disposable goods.
Her research suggests the business models are “hard wired” to produce inequality and labour exploitation. Problems in supply chains are longstanding. Throughout history, capitalism has relied heavily on the exploitation of vulnerable groups for forced labour and slavery. 10.36 – 16.33
Genevieve’s research, covering retail supply chains in China, tea and cocoa supply chains in India and Ghana, and garment supply chains in Southern India, has yielded several insights.
Labour exploitation is not unusual. Common patterns emerge Why certain businesses have an endemic demand for forced labour How and why supply chains are set up to facilitate labour exploitation, in terms of how businesses make money from forced labour, and the business models they use There are clear and discernable patterns regarding both the supply and demand drivers of forced labour in global supply chains. She argues that:
Although the geography of exploitation and the people involved has changed over time, some form of forced labour is a constant factor in the capitalist model of production throughout history Solutions to issues of labour exploitation need to go beyond looking just at supply chains and confront the structures which have given rise to these problems John adds that a key factor in supply chains is lack of accountability (anonymity) in the upper levels of supply chains, which is useful for efficient production, but can lead to labour exploitation lower down the chain.
16.33 – 19.50
The discussion moves on to the persistence of unfree labour globally