December 11, 2020


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Christmas time is a wonderful time of the year where Australians gather and celebrate with millions of extra dollars spent on food and presents. It’s easy to get distracted in the hustle and bustle, and find yourself not considering where all of your produce and gifts come from, and who is making them. Unfortunately, whenever there is an increase in demand for a product, such as Christmas time, it means there is a higher demand on sweatshops and farmers for toys and produce. However, we as consumers, have the power through our wallets to create the demand and make choices on products that are ethically and responsibly produced. In this article, I go through just a couple of areas where we can make easy guilt-free decisions that support local producers, and help us have an ethical Christmas!

The 3 Big Ones

1. Prawns!

Prawns are an essential staple to the traditional Aussie Christmas Lunch, yet the seafood sector is one of the largest industries plagued by forced labour and human trafficking. In Australia, Thailand is our largest seafood supplier with up to 20% of workers on Thai boats estimated to have been trafficked and forced to work in harsh conditions up to 20 hours a day, with inadequate food and abusive supervisors. So unfortunately, chances are that the prawns on our Christmas table would have been handled by those who have been trafficked.

When going to the shops, you’ll find that imported prawns and seafood are generally the cheaper ones on the shelves, but that’s a red flag for potential forced labour in our South-East Asian neighbours’ fisheries.

“40 per cent of fishers surveyed had experienced arbitrary wage deductions, 17 per cent were threatened with violence and roughly one in ten had attempted to escape, been severely beaten or both.” (Greenpeace Report, 2015)

A big tip for buying your prawns and fish this Christmas, is to check the label to see where they were caught, and choose those marked Australian in origin. This makes a big difference as Australia has higher processing standards and quality control monitoring, which means there is a much lower chance for forced labour occurrence. All major grocery stores in Australia (Coles, Woolworths & Aldi) make a big effort to investigate their supply chains and each stock Australian harvested prawns, and has the origin clearly labelled for you to know exactly what you are buying into.

2. Desserts!

No Christmas is complete without beautiful sweets and desserts to finish off the meal! There’s nothing like kicking back, talking with family and friends with a cup of tea in hand while dessert is being carried out to the table. As always, the big one to look out for in your desserts is chocolate! Cocoa is one of the most well publicised industries where trafficking and forced labour occurs, with millions of children and adults every year forced to pick the cocoa beans to make the chocolate we all love. This Christmas, whether you are using chocolate in your cooking, giving it as gifts, or eating straight from the block, there are multiple Fairtrade alternatives to make eating that chocolate a justified reward!

“In 2013/14, 2.03 million children were found in hazardous work in cocoa production in both [Cote d’lvoire & Ghana] combined.”

The major grocery stores all have at least one brand that is Fairtrade, so they’re not too hard to find. ‘Green & Blacks’ is a personal favourite of mine, due to their range of flavours, being organic, and supporting local cocoa farmers in Central America. ‘Cadbury’ and ‘Whittaker’s’ are the creamy classics, but be careful as only some of their range is Fairtrade certified. Otherwise, if you are looking for some fancy gifts for the chocoholics in the family, upmarket Australian store ‘Haigh’s’, is UTZ certified and committed to sustainable and ethical chocolate production.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a simple after dinner ice-cream snack, the ‘Ben & Jerry’s’ range is completely Fairtrade and has so many great flavours to choose from!

3. Presents!

Another area that should be of concern for everyone at this time of year, is where our beloved Christmas presents come from. We want to be able to give a great gift to friends and family, but we also want to give a gift that isn’t causing harm to those who make them!

Clothes and sports equipment are always a big hit for kids and adults alike however, a large amount of activewear and sports equipment is hand stitched by thousands underpaid or trafficked workers, including children, in India and Pakistan. Companies are often in the limelight for labour scandals, however there are a few online alternatives which provide Fairtrade and ethical sports goods, which are great for presents with a clear conscience! A great example is the online store ‘RREPP’, which has a large range of footballs, soccer balls, netballs, as well as a few activewear items. They ensure ethical processes at each stage of production from cotton picking to stitching, to packing.

In Uttar Pradesh in India, “9% of boys and 18% of girls aged 6-17 years were pursuing full time soccer ball stitching activity, and a significant proportion (43% of boys and 57% of girls) were engaged in both stitching as well as school activity” (ILRF Report, 2010)

Alternatively, if you’re not sure what to buy your family or friends for Christmas, why not buy them a gift that makes a difference? There are plenty of NGO’s and charities that sell gifts to support, or that are made by the disadvantaged in Australia or overseas to support their local businesses and empower them to move out of extreme poverty. This is a great way to support families in vulnerable areas, as there is no forced labour in the making of the products and the money goes straight to that family. How often can you buy a gift that puts a big smile on your face, as well as knowing that it has such a bigger impact to those who made it?!

Finally, if in doubt on where to shop or how ethical your Christmas present ideas might be, there are some great online resources which provide ratings and a breakdown of the brand’s history, to give you the full picture of what your money is supporting. Why don’t you check out ‘Good on You’ or ‘Shop Ethical’ which are very handy tools to prepare your Christmas shopping list!

Quick Tips:

  • Look for the ‘Australian grown’ or ‘Australian origin’ label on your seafood and meat to prevent buying imported goods where forced labour is common
  • Look for the Fairtrade or UTZ symbols on your chocolate, tea and coffee when it comes to dessert time to ensure the after-lunch treat is as good for the farmers as it is for you
  • Check the label to see where your gifts were made, and do some quick research to see if there is any history or evidence of potential forced labour in the production process.
  • Consider buying alternative charitable gifts which can support and empower the local businesses of those in poverty
  • Search your go-to shops and brands on ethical apps or websites to see where your present or food is coming from and the company’s dedication to a fair society
  • At Christmas dinner, mention the thought that you put in to choosing your food and presents and the reasoning behind it to spread awareness with your family and friends. It’s the perfect opportunity to share what you have learnt and to get others to start thinking about how they shop!