Fair Fashion? New Legislation Aims to Protect Outworkers in Australia’s Clothing Industry

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Picture: Enrico Bianda

For many fashionistas, overdosing on cutting-edge fashion at the local shopping mall is the epitome of bliss. Yet for most of the workers who create the edgy designs we adore, the experience is anything but blissful.

Chances are that the slinky $200 top youre trying to decide whether you can afford was made by someone earning as little as $4 an hour, working for long hours in an unsafe environment – even if the garment was made in Australia.

Up to now, much of our homegrown fashion has been constructed by poorly paid outworkers in unsafe sweatshop conditions. Many outworkers toil for more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week, receiving no overtime pay or penalty rates. They often receive no superannuation, annual leave or workers compensation. They’re usually made to pay for their own equipment and even thread.

Outworkers are frequently forced onto sham contracts. Because they’re paid so badly, they take on large volumes of work. To keep up with the fast turnaround typical of the fashion industry they face very tight deadlines, so end up working excessive hours.

But change is sweeping through the industry. On 22 March, federal parliament passed historic legislation giving outworkers in the fashion industry the same rights and responsibilities as employees. The Fair Work Amendment (Textile, Clothing and Footwear Industry) Bill was passed by the Senate with the support of the Greens and the independents. 

The legislation allows the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union (TCFUA) to enter and identify sweatshops and assist employees working in unacceptable conditions.

According to Ms Michele O’Neil, National Secretary of the TCFUA, ‘This law means that ... TCF outworkers and workers in sweatshops are entitled to be treated with the same dignity under the law as any other Australian employee. These workers will now be entitled to receive the same minimum wages and conditions as every other worker in the industry.’

She strongly urged industry employers to get on board. ‘It’s utterly unacceptable that in 2012 there are still significant numbers of workers in this industry who do not receive even the most basic working conditions, including a minimum hourly rate of pay, leave and a safe and healthy workplace.

But Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia, the body which represents the fashion industry, is critical of the legislation. In a recent submission to a review of the Fair Work Act, it said that there were undoubtedly some vulnerable home based workers in the sector, but ‘most participants in the TCF industry do not fit that category and should not be defined as outworkers or sweatshop owners.

‘The current ... regime has removed the flexibility to employ casuals and contractors working from home and has become so complex [that] aspects are proving to be unworkable and difficult to comprehend.’

An ethical label

How have Australian outworkers’ poor working conditions been ignored for so long? Production in the fashion industry is outsourced, and supply chains can be very complicated. Brands that focus on cost alone can easily ignore the conditions under which their garments are produced. Outworkers often have poor English skills and can become very isolated.

The Fairwear campaign and Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA)  have made heroic efforts on this issue for years. Both groups work towards the goal of Australian outworkers in the textile, clothing and footwear industry receiving fair wages and conditions.

ECA does this through its voluntary accreditation system. 
This system helps brands and manufacturers meet their legal obligations and standards throughout the entire supply chain.

Accredited companies are permitted to use the Ethical Clothing Australia swing tag or label. This shows that the garment was made in Australia and everyone involved in its production received at least the legal rates of pay and fair working conditions.

Last year  ECA launched the Meet Your Maker campaign to increase awareness of its ethical label and the garment makers that were benefiting from it.

ECA spokeswoman Eloise Bishop said that there had been ‘a significant increase’ in the number of businesses applying for accreditation.

‘We now have more than 60 Australian businesses already accredited and applications for accreditation doubled [in 2010],’ she said.

‘We hope that campaigns such as Meet Your Maker contribute to this increasing level of awareness and interest in ethical manufacturing.’

The future: sustainable and fair?

As well as wanting their clothes to be produced fairly, consumers are also increasingly demanding that they be sustainable, with a low environmental and carbon footprint.

In 2010 ECA was commissioned by the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Industries Innovation Council to look at creating a new voluntary label for Australia that would include sustainability factors.

The report recommended that the best way to do was this was to expand the existing ECA label to include an environmental accreditation as an optional extra. The Council is currently considering the study’s findings.

Until next time!

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Enjoy a Guilt-Free Easter with Fairtrade,Vegan & Organic Easter Eggs (& Other Chocolate Treats!)


Whether or not you observe Easter in the religious sense, it’s a time of great temptation when it comes to chocolate. They say that the best way to deal with temptation is to give in to it!

If you’re concerned about human rights, animal rights and the environment but love your chocolate, look no further. There are many yummy options you can eat with a clear conscience. And those with dairy and gluten allergies don't have to miss out either.

Organic, Fairtrade, vegan, gluten-free chocolate is a reality!

Below are some examples of the Easter offerings produced by companies with a conscience. Some address all the concerns above, while others address exclusively vegan and fair trade concerns. Many but not all use organic chocolate.

Some companies sell chocolate online and through retail outlets while others sell through bricks-and-mortar stores only - stockist information can be found on the websites.

(Some of the companies that 
don’t produce vegan chocolate do produce dark chocolate products that are made without dairy products. However, these products may contain traces of dairy in the production process and also animal products such as honey in glazes. Vegan products in contrast are specified to have no traces of animal products.)

This dark chocolate Easter egg is from Oxfam’s range of Fairtrade Easter goodies available in Australia. The Fairtrade chocolate used in the range is handmade, free from child labour and helps families in developing communities.The range includes organic chocolate but isn’t vegan.

These products helps producers and communities in countries like Dominican Republic, Ghana, Peru, Paraguay and India through improved market access and stable and regular income.

Oxfam also has loads of Easter ideas in unwrapped cards; handmade soft rabbits; and re-usable paper mache keepsake boxes, some with luxury handmade Belgium Fairtrade chocolate buttons and eggs inside.

This cute little bunny is totally dairy free, organic and Fairtrade into the bargain! It’s from the vegan range of Sjaaks, a  US family company that, according to its website, is committed to organics and fair trade. Sjaaks also produces a Fairtrade vegan range of Easter eggs. 

Sjaaks is based in California. Its creator brought his confectionary skills from his native Holland when he migrated to the US. The company sells its chocolates online and they're also sold in some US retail stores, but unfortunately appear to be available in the domestic US market only.

This UK company is committed to fair trade, which means that all its products are Fairtrade certified. Plush sources its chocolate and sugar from five different Fairtrade locations, and there’s info on the website about them. The company's Easter offerings include a milk chocolate strawberry drizzle egg and packets of solid Belgian chocolate eggs.

If you’re in the UK you can buy Easter eggs straight from the website, or there’s an extensive stockist list that includes bricks-and mortar retailers and other online stockists. Orders from outside the UK can be taken but they must be made manually.

Some of Plush’s products use organic chocolate but I couldn’t find any dairy-free ones. The company packages its chocolate in handmade, fairly traded gift boxes, and reusable and recyclable boxes.

This US company specialises in vegan chocolate that is also gluten free, nut free and egg free (but unfortunately not Fairtrade). According to its website, it has pioneered the creation of artisan chocolates that mimic milk chocolate. The company is based in New Jersey but ships to more than 20 countries. Its Easter range includes mini eggs such as those pictured, larger eggs, and Easter bunnies in various sizes.

This Australian company creates artisan, handmade chocolates that are vegan and also suitable for those with lactose, gluten and dairy allergies. Unfortunately these chocolates aren’t Fairtrade or organic, which is a shame because the handmade chocolate above looks incredibly delectable. 

Constant Craving produces a  giant Easter egg (pictured at top) reminiscent of the Easter eggs I would keep going for weeks as a child, carefully breaking off a few pieces to eat each a day while the remainder got stale in my desk drawer! Chocolates can be ordered online and shipped to anywhere in Australia, and there’s also a list of stockists on the website.

I couldn’t find any Easter eggs on this company’s site but had to include it because it sounded so interesting and ticked all the boxes, including sugar free!

Loving Earth chocolate is raw organic. The company offers a vegan range with some truly adventurous flavours. Not all of its products are certified fair trade, but it uses its own form of fair trade certification and says that fair trade principles govern all its dealings with growers. There’s plenty of information on the website about the growers, including a ‘Grower information’ link for each product.

Loving Earth creates a number of innovative products, combining raw organic chocolate with fruit extracts, corn, exotic spices and nuts to create what sound like amazing flavours. Pictured is the sour cherry raw chocolate bar, which is fair trade, vegan, organic, gluten-free, sugar-free and sweetened with organic agave syrup!

Loving Earth is based in Campbellfield in Melbourne, Australia. Goods can be shipped all over Australia as well as internationally. If you’re in the area you can pick up the produce from the warehouse if you call ahead.

The company’s commitment to organic products and nutritional production methods extends to ‘activating’ its organic almonds to retain nutrition - you can read more about this on the website.

Certified Fairtrade and organic with a large vegan range, this high-quality chocolate is  manufactured in Australia but at this point the company doesn't seem to produce Easter eggs. There's a list of stockists on the website, mainly confined to Victoria but including NSW and Tasmania.

Cocola is a Swiss chocolate available in Australia. (Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to produce Easter eggs either). It’s Fairtrade, organic and free of cane sugar but not vegan (organic milk powder is used) It's also gluten and soy free. The dark chocolate products are made without milk solids but may contain traces of dairy. 

Cocola products are available in bricks-and-mortar stores in most Australian states - contacts for information on stockists are included on the website.

Green & Black’s is a large organic chocolate company that was bought by Kraft in 2010 but has promised to retain its original philosophy. It supplies the UK, Europe, Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand. It has a strong commitment to fair trade and ethical sourcing, and the online range includes Fairtrade Easter eggs for kids (see pic). 

The company’s dark chocolate products are made without milk but it warns that because of cross-contamination in the production process they may not be entirely milk free.

Divine is the only Fairtrade chocolate company that’s 45 per cent owned by the farmers. According to its website, ‘While Fairtrade ensures farmers receive a better deal for their cocoa and additional income to invest in their community, company ownership gives farmers a share of Divine’s profits and a stronger voice in the cocoa industry.’ The website has plenty of information and photographs detailing the producer-owned co-op in Ghana, as well as the ingredients used and methods of production - perfect for school projects!

Divine’s Easter range includes dark, milk and white chocolate eggs in gift packaging, as well as bags of mini eggs and mini chocolate bunnies. Unfortunately the products aren’t organic or vegan.

Divine products are available from stockists in the following countries: USA, Canada, Sweden, Norway, 
Holland, Hungary, Denmark, Czech Republic, Japan, Australia, Poland, South Korea. They're also available online in the UK (through the main website) the USA, Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

Have a wonderful Easter, and happy chocolate munching!

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Furni-phobia: The Fear of Buying Big-Ticket Items

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This piece was first written in 2009, for an earlier blog of mine. I thought it would be good to give it another airing on the Inspired Shopper blog because it reflects on a shopping dilemma that I deal with to this very day!

I have just bought a new, LCD, digital, HD (not 'complete' HD  there aren't enough pixels) flat-screen TV and had it installed using the combined efforts of the nice aerial man and a long-suffering friend of mine who is electronically advantaged. And I feel slightly traumatised.

I knew this feeling was coming and I was prepared. Every time I acquire an item that significantly alters my domestic environment, such as a new, expensive-ish piece of furniture or anything in the way of brown-, white- or blackgoods, I go through a 'trial period' where I am convinced I have made a huge mistake and should just go back to frittering away my money on clothes.

I know where and how this started. For many years I just didn't know how to shop. I rarely had enough money to buy new household items so acquired my parents' or friends' cast-off fridges, crappy vacuum cleaners and so on. When I was forced to buy something new I just went for the bottom-of-the-range model, and I rarely shopped around for the best price.

Then I started to earn a bit of money. Somehow I found myself with a luxurious wool underlay and top-of-the-range, down-filled doona that conspired to overheat and dry out my entire body so I'd wake at 3 in the morning feeling like a piece of dehydrated meat and screaming for water (that was 2002 and I still haven't got around to selling that underlay on eBay).

My next try was a heater and for this adventure I turned into Goldilocks, returning the first heater because it was too cold and the second because it was too powerful, then skulking to another shop to buy a heater that was 'just right'.

An education in shopping

So I kind of taught myself to shop. I'd been in a 12-step program and I combined the 'letting go' techniques I'd learned there with a new-agey concept of intuition that worked well in other aspects of my life. And I did get better at shopping, I really did. But it took ages and much trial and error. To this day, buying anything significant involves much research, browsing and soul-searching until the heart-wrenching decision is made and I reluctantly hand over my debit card.

And then guess what happens? I convince myself that in fact, despite my gut feeling reassuring me otherwise, I have yet again stuffed up, under-researched, not done enough internet searching, not been to the right shop – what was possessing me that I didn't go there, what was I thinking?

I shouldn't be too hard on myself. The fact is, when shopping for a big-ticket item I'm caught between two competing needs – I can't afford to buy anything approaching the luxury model, but the bloody thing has to last for years. I guess an easy way of expressing this is that I'm looking for value for money. I'm an expert bargainer, and have perfected the down to earth, look-em-in-the-eye 'What's your best price?' once I've made up my mind.

Buying a new TV hasn't been my only risky venture of late. The familiar adaptation process had occurred already, soon after my brand new mattress arrived a few weeks earlier. (Allow two to three weeks for delivery because of Christmas/New Year? No problem. I could wait. It was going to be a big adjustment.) When it finally arrived it looked beautiful, so tall and imposing with its luxurious latex pillowtop ('You have to get a pillowtop', my sister had said, 'it feels like you're sleeping on a cloud').

I had been back to the same chain store again and again, going to different branches so I could pretend I was a new customer and spending 10-minute stretches lying back on the mattress I'd provisionally chosen  sales assistants advise that you have to lie there for ages before you get any idea of what a mattress feels like, because at first it feels great just to be lying down.

(This was a horrible experience. The recession had just started and there was never anyone else in the stores, even on Saturday mornings. Just acres and acres of inviting beds. Sometimes I walked into stores and went straight to the beds and lay down on one of them and then the sales assistant would sidle up and say something like 'Looking for a mattress are you?' and it would all feel way too intimate.)

Anyway, once the mattress had taken over my undersized bedroom I quickly convinced myself that it had been a huge mistake. For a start it was almost impossible to make my bed. My pillowtop is so heavy you can't really hold it up to tuck the sheets underneath, except at the corners. And because it is so tall, it obscures the deco Danish bedhead I'd bought for a song on eBay only six or so months before. Then of course I couldn't sleep because the mattress was  well it was too comfortable! It felt too indulgent, too foreign.

And one morning, after a day of sitting, both on public transport and at a theatre, I woke with my upper back aching, having spent too long on my back in the hollow that the latex had soon developed. I rushed to the internet to discover the dreadful truth. Sure enough, latex pillowtops were notorious for sinking in the middle and creating bad backs! That was it, I was going to return the bed before it ruined my spine beyond all repair. Why, oh why hadn't I gone to Beds for Backs? No wonder no one was in those conventional mattress stores  they were all at Beds for Backs, looking after their spines!

But still my gut feeling said, don't worry, it's fine. You did make the right choice.

A similar feeling assailed me last night about the new television, after my electronics engineer friend had gone home. He'd adjusted the picture so that the golf no longer looked glittery and I could no longer reassure myself that I had indeed made a terrible mistake and would have to return this piece of crap forthwith or sell it to my sister. So the telly was just too right. The screen was too big, the experience too overwhelming after watching a tiny little toy box with a 'bunny ears' aerial for almost 20 years. This monster would swallow me up and turn me into a televidiot.

And then after watching a rock show I never normally bother with I drifted exhausted to bed, and my mattress, my mattress, well it just felt so comfortable, so comforting  so  right.

Until next time!

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Why Hummus Is Not Only a Superfood but a Potential Peace Maker


As I was eating my lunch a few Saturdays ago I had something of a revelation. The lunch I was munching on was hummus with a sliced tomato on rice cracker (bear with me). It struck me what a great food hummus was, and the more I thought about it the more convinced I became of its category-defying uniqueness. Here are just some of the reasons why hummus brings people together (with a recipe at the end):

It’s a vegan food without the stereotypes. Unfortunately, defensive carnivores have negatively stereotyped some foods beloved of vegans, associating them with so-called ‘treehuggers’ – think tofu, lentil burgers and alfalfa sprouts (not that there’s anything wrong with these foods, or ‘treehuggers’ for that matter!) Hummus has escaped this negative labelling despite its iconic status among vegans. On the contrary, it’s seen as a gourmet food and is endlessly being reimagined by the chef-erati; Nigella has an eccentric peanut butter version, for instance. Needless to say, hummus also goes beautifully with that other great vegan (and non-stereotyped) food, falafel.

It’s an allergy-friendly food without being associated with a rigid, limited diet. If you can’t eat dairy- and gluten-containing foods (like yours truly), and you bring hummus to a social gathering, no one assumes you’re on a special diet and gives you sympathetic but uncomprehending looks. If you can’t eat citrus, hummus still tastes great without the lemon juice.

Its extremely economical. If you make hummus yourself, it’s a very low-cost food. Cook the chickpeas yourself and keep the tahini in the fridge, where it lasts for ages.

It’s incredibly simple to make, yet has potential for complexity. Hummus has only four basic ingredients, five if you include olive oil. If you’re not much of a cook you can still make great hummus. The only thing that you need to actually cook is the chickpeas, and you can avoid even this by using canned. On the other hand, if you’re a foodie, you can explore the complexities of hummus ad infinitum, deciding whether to get rid of the chickpea skins, which types of chickpeas and tahini provide optimum flavour and texture, whether or not to roast the garlic etc, etc  – you get my drift.

It can be made in a variety of textures. Like peanut butter, hummus is flexible when it comes to texture. It can be smooth, rich and creamy, or crumbly and runny with pieces of whole chickpea in it. For extra creaminess, add olive oil and the water in which you cooked the chickpeas.

It’s eaten in many parts of the world, so it must be good! Hummus is found in countries along the Mediterranean coastline, such as Israel, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Turkey, Cyprus and Greece. It’s taken Americans a while to catch on but apparently it’s growing in popularity there. The Brits also love it and Australia’s love affair with Greek and Middle Eastern dips has assured its popularity here for decades.

It has a distinguished but enigmatic history. Chickpeas, the main ingredient of hummus, have been eaten for more than 10 000 years. The chickpea was one of the earliest crops cultivated in Mesopotamia. Chickpeas were eaten in Palestine before 4000 BC and were a common street dish in ancient Rome. A similar recipe to hummus, featuring mashed chickpeas mixed with vinegar and other ingredients, dates back to the thirteenth century. However, the first documented recipe for hummus as we know it comes from the late eighteenth-century modern Syrian capital of Damascus, and the same source suggests that hummus was unknown outside Damascus at the time.

It has the potential to bring different and even warring cultures together. Hummus is much-loved by both Palestinians and Israelis, and the extent of cultural attachments and refinements regarding hummus in Israel puts Melburnians’ attachment to coffee to shame. It’s not just a dish there, but a national obsession; there are hummus restaurants as well as shops. There’s even an Israeli blog dedicated to it. There are accusations by Arabs of cultural appropriation, but hummus also seems to bring Arabs and Israelis together. There’s an intense and more or less friendly rivalry between Israel and Lebanon for the Guinness Book of Records title for world’s largest dish of hummus. In May 2010 the record returned to Lebanon.

It’s extremely nutritious. Hummus is made from cooked and crushed chickpeas, tahini paste, crushed garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Chickpeas are a good source of zinc, folate, manganese, iron, copper and phosphorous and they’re high in protein and dietary fibre. Tahini, which is made of hulled sesame seeds, is a source of calcium, iron and some B vitamins. The lemon juice in hummus is a good source of vitamin C. Hummus provides complete protein when eaten with bread. It’s also a good source of monsaturated fats, ie healthy fats.

It’s endlessly adaptable. The Vegie Bar in Melbourne makes an incredible hummus with cashews – it’s to die for. I saw a recipe for boiled peanut hummus on my travels but decided to skip that! There’s a commercial variety made with pumpkin at my local supermarket, and hummus is also sometimes made with carrot or beetroot. (While I dislike the idea of reducing the richness of hummus with a watery vegetable, I can see the attraction for commercial purposes – vegetables are cheaper than hummus ingredients.) Hummus can be made with thyme or mint, and sometimes white beans are added to the recipe. For dietary problems with either lemon juice or sesame, you can take out either ingredient and still have a flavoursome dish. Yoghurt is sometimes used in place of tahini.

Hummus is served with different garnishes in different parts of the world. In Israel they serve it with a boiled egg, fava beans, parsley and olive oil. The Palestinians often serve it warm. They place a crater in the middle of the hummus, fill the crater with olive oil and garnish the hummus with paprika, cumin, mint or parsley.

You can make hummus quickly if you’re in a hurry. There’s been much debate about whether or not it is okay to use tinned chickpeas. If you decide to use tinned, you’re better off buying one of the Italian brands that are cooked without added sugar. In Europe you can get jars of cooked chickpeas preserved in water and salt.

If you use tinned chickpeas,  thoroughly drain and rinse the chickpeas. Don’t use the broth to make the paste smoother, and don’t make the hummus without the tahini; I’ve just tried the latter and though it tasted okay, the chickpeas were the wrong colour, giving the hummus a nasty orange tinge.

Recipe for hummus
Here’s a fairly basic recipe for hummus. It doesn’t include cooking the chickpeas; there’s a lot of info on the net about the best way to soak and cook them, and carb soda seems to aid the process. A really good article from the Guardian about creating hummus convinced me that combining the tahini with half the garlic and half the lemon juice before adding them to the chickpeas could produce superior creaminess. Add paprika or cumin to taste.

2 cups cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup tahini
1 clove garlic, minced
6–8 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt to taste

Mash or puree chickpeas with rest of ingredients. Spread on a plate and garnish with parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.

If you have any useful info about hummus, or even a  favourite recipe, please let me know.

Happy hummus eating!

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