Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tempted by a Bargain?

Ling was born in China. When she was 19 years old, she was persuaded to go to Europe with the promise of a job and a better life - both for her, and for her family who stayed behind.
She was given a job as a textile worker in a factory. The salary promised was €800 per month which was much more than she could ever hope to earn in Hanuin. She works 16 hours a day, and is not allowed to leave the factory except to return to the small apartment she shares with six other factory employees. She does not receive the salary that she was promised, and is rarely paid anything at all.
You may have purchased a sweater made by Ling.’ (IOM,2008).
I don’t want to buy clothing that imprisons girls like Ling. I want to buy items that empower them.
I am currently working in Singapore for 5 weeks and the temptation to buy cheap clothing manufactured in Asia is all around me. Usually I would jump at a bargain, but my conscious no longer allows me to do this as when you purchase a product, you are supporting the way that product was produced. If the product is the result of someone’s forced labor, you are encouraging the company which has relied on forced labor to continue relying on forced labor.
I am sure when it comes down to it, none of us want to support forced labor with our retail purchases, but the fact is it is very difficult to distinguish which companies exploit their workers and which don’t, as the global supply chain system is so complex.
I have started walking to and from work whilst in Singapore, which is not only great for my health, but also solves my issue of purchasing unethical petrol temporarily! However, my laptop was getting a tad heavy and therefore I needed to purchase a backpack. But where could I possibly find an ethical lyproduced backpack?
I managed to do some research and found many resources that can assist you in making a decision about what brands manufacture their items with a social conscious.
Free to Work
On Free2work.org, consumers can easily search specific products, learn more about various labour standards and corporate practices, and further their engagement through their consumption decisions.
Ethical Clothing Australia
Assisting the local textile, clothing and footwear industry to ensure Australian workers receive fair wages and decent conditions.
Business Social Compliance Initiative
The Business Social Compliance Initiative is a leading business-driven initiative for companies committed to improving working conditions in the global supply chain.
All of the above websites rank or list brands based on the companies’ compliance with ethical standards and labour laws. From this I picked up some common brands that I encounter every time I enter a shopping centre that abide by such standards:
  • GAP
  • Bardot
  • Cue
  • Levi’s
  • Billabong
And although I cannot verify that they have signed up to international standards, Target and Cotton On have Ethical Sourcing Codes that all of their suppliers must comply with.
So really, with a bit of prior research it is not too difficult to purchase ethical clothing. You may just have to avoid the temptation to purchase on a whim, and only purchase an item once you have researched the brand. This may also assist with budgeting as you will be less inclined to buy items you don’t really need!
So, long story short I was able to purchase a backpack from an ESPIRIT store. Although it cost me more than a cheap backpack from one of the markets here in Singapore, I felt better knowing that the person made it was not working in a sweatshop with their feet chained to a table for 16 hours a day.
And although it is very difficult to walk past pretty dresses selling for $5 here in the markets,  I would prefer not to wear an item on my body that endorses slavery, even it was a bargain.
For additional information on labor laws and actions you can take towards ethical consumerism go to:
Organization for International Migration. (2008). We Buy They Pay. Retrieved 25 January 2011 from http://www.buyresponsibly.org/


  1. Wow, I am so proud of you! Cheap shopping is not easy to stay away from, and I am glad you are choosing clothing wisely. This is a great post, the links will make it so much easier to buy ethically, and you are right that it will save me from buying impulsively, which is usually my problem... x

  2. I really like your blog! It's great to have information on making ethical choices that is relevant to Australia.


  3. This blog is awesome full of useful information that i was in dire need of.

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