Are your clothes made by slaves? Why Fair trade is so critical.

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It's a hard question but it's highly likely that some of your clothes were made by slaves. Modern slavery is rife in the production of clothes, food and technology. No one willingly engages in the cycle of slavery, which is why Fairtrade is more important than ever.

Etiko founder, Nick Savaidis considers what Modern Slavery looks like.

Across the world it is estimated that more than 40 million people are victims of modern slavery, including 15,000 Australians. To put that into perspective, the population of Canada is 37 million. This means that globally, a group of people bigger in size than the population of Canada, are living in conditions of servitude from which they cannot escape. The sad reality is that their children will most likely not escape such trappings either.

While we don’t see the faces of this 40-million-strong workforce, these people are intertwined into our economies and the Australian way of life. They grow our food, catch our fish, manufacture our technology and make our clothes. They are the reason we can have so much cheap stuff.

Globally, Australia is the 8th largest importer of products which are deemed at risk of modern slavery (think technology, clothing, and foods like fish, rice and cacao), and as a nation we annually import 16.5 billion dollars worth of these at-risk items. Our homes, our pantries, our workplaces and our schools are filled with items made by slaves. And so too are our wardrobes. Anti-Slavery.org.au identifies some root causes of slavery such as forced labour, poverty and weak rule of law, these factors are usually responsible for slavery in clothing and textile manufacturing. Orders placed in one country can be quietly transported over borders to be sewn together in forced labour camps then back over the border to be shipped to the high streets of the first world. When a product is certified fair trade the supply chain is checked from shop floor to seed bed, it is the only guarantee of ethical production and not slavery.

Australia is the world’s second-largest consumer of textiles. We each purchase an average of 27kg of new textiles a year, more than twice the global average, and we then dispose of approximately 23 kilograms of textiles each year. According to ABC’s War on Waste, that equates to 6,000 kilograms of clothes going to landfill every 10 minutes! What madness!

When you consider that over 70% of Australia’s imported clothes are sourced from countries where the apparel industry is considered “at risk” of using modern slavery, you can see how significant the issue is within the fashion industry. Just think about that. As much as 70% of our imported clothes could have been made by slaves. That’s seven out of ten items, and most of them are thrown away within the year. 

Slavery is exploitation, even if we are blind to the part we play in the cycle. Personally, I don’t tolerate exploitation. And it’s my intolerance of exploitation that inspired me to create Etiko and Jinta Sports, and to ensure that both of these brands were Fairtrade certified. Because Fairtrade, in my opinion, is the antidote to modern slavery.

While the Australian government fumbles with the 2018 Modern Slavery Bill, which requires Australia’s biggest companies to address modern slavery in their supply chains (though it also gives no penalty to those who don’t), Fairtrade has already solved that problem. Fairtrade certification guarantees a product has been created without the use of child, sweatshop or slave labour. Fairtrade means workers are paid living wages, instead of government-sanctioned minimum wages, and the 15% Fairtrade Premium means workers are enabled to pass that on to their own communities. Because of the rigorous and independent assessment of supply chains by Fairtrade Associations, we can trace our products' impact right back to the cotton seed. Because of Fairtrade, we can guarantee that our customers are helping to improve the lives of our textile workers, instead of trapping them, and their children, in poverty so severe it’s considered slave labour.

Shopping with Etiko or purchasing Fairtrade certified products is your guarantee of slave-free manufacturing.

Want to know more about Fairtrade’s commitment to preventing modern slavery? See their brochure here.

Want to know more about modern slavery? See antislavery.org, the global slavery index, or read this article in The Conversation about slavery in textile manufacturing.

Photo credit Ben Doherty Fairfax Media

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  • Thanks Nick and team for continuing to keep this important issue in focus and more importantly for continuing to provide solutions. Looking forward to buying my organic cotton Fairtrade face mask.

    Matt Perfect on

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