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Where you get your mask matters – it could be tainted by modern-day slavery

We should definitely all be wearing masks when we go into shops and other indoor spaces and having a couple that you can wash and rotate is a good idea.

But it’s not enough to own a mask or two – where you buy your mask from matters.

That’s because some masks and other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been linked with modern-day slavery.

While masks used to be the preserve of healthcare professionals and beauticians, we’re all going to be legally obliged to wear one from 24 July – sending sales skyrocketing. According to Cambridge University experts, that increase in demand is putting the world’s poor at grave risk.

Writing for The Conversation, senior research associates Sarah Steele and Lejla Sarcevic say that ‘many will find themselves at risk of being exploited – becoming modern slaves – as production rapidly increases’.

Back in 2018, the Guardian revealed that much of the PPE supplied to the NHS was a product of exploitation and slavery. That expose saw contracts ending, reviews and reforms but we know that the textile industry still relies heavily on child labour and slavery to produce cheap items (most recently in Leicester). It’s not just fast fashion clothing that’s being produced.

A staggering 40.3 million people are estimated to live in slavery, 25 million of whom are involved in making goods. According to the Global Slavery Index, G20 countries (UK, US, EU, Russia etc) import around £278 billion in products that may have been made using slave labour. The pandemic has meant that many will have lost their jobs and therefore are more vulnerable to being exploited as demand for masks continues to grow.

Certain governments have actually lifted bans on buying PPE from companies known to use slave labour, in order to get the supplies needed.

How to ensure your mask is slavery-free

There are two very simple ways to get around this moral conundrum (and not wearing a mask isn’t one of them).

It’s super simple to make your own mask. If you’ve got an old T-shirt or tea towel, you can make one really quickly with this guide.

If you can’t be arsed with the DIY, then be sure to check where you’re buying your mask from. It’s so tempting to jump online order a load of super-cheap options but you really don’t know where they’ve come from or why they’re so cheap.

Instead, have a look on Etsy for masks made by individual creators and studios (you’ll also be supporting small businesses that way) or look on sites such as Wearth London which specialises in zero-waste, UK-made products.

Sure, you might spend a little more but if you’re going to wear a mask almost every day for however long, it’s worth investing.

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