Breaking the chains

Fairtrade dolls and fabrics. Photo: Georgy Sides.

A panel has been held by the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand in Perth to discuss how fair trade can help end modern slavery.

The panel featured keynote presentations and discussions by experts on fair trade and modern slavery as part of the Fair Trade Changemaker Tour across Australia.

During the panel, Minderoo Foundation senior research analyst Elly Williams says modern slavery is an umbrella term used to encompass many human exploitation practices.

“Modern slavery covers a set of specific legal concepts including forced labour, debt bondage, slavery and slavery-like practises, forced marriage and human trafficking,” she says.

“Essentially, it is referring to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave due to threats, violence, coercion and–or an abuse of power.”

Hear more from Elly Williams.

According to last year’s global estimates, more than 49 million people live in modern slavery.

Mitos Urgel. Photo: Georgy Sides.

World Fair Trade Organisation Asia President and WEAVE CEO Mitos Urgel says the WFTO creates working opportunities to prevent people from falling into modern slavery.

“The WFTO verifies that all its members comply with the 10 principles of fair trade in Asia,” she says.

“We work in 20 countries to build sustainable and resilient livelihoods of economically disadvantaged producers.”

Ms Urgel says her organisation WEAVE works closely with refugee women and children at the Thai/Myanmar border to empower them socially, economically and politically as well as provide them with safe and fair work.

Ms Urgel says because Thailand did not sign the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees are considered ‘temporarily displaced people’ and they are not afforded access to human rights such as housing or work leaving them vulnerable to modern slavery.

“They would take any risk because they have children and families to feed and so the environment can be very exploitative,” Ms Urgel says.

“But WEAVE places these women in safe centres where they can earn income through traditional cultural practices of weaving, embroidering and sewing.

“Not only are they supported to achieve financial independence and gain control of themselves but they are also able to heal by embracing traditional production methods in a safe environment.”

Hera more from Mitos Urgel.
Some of the textile produced from the WEAVE centre. Photo: Georgy Sides.

However, Ms Williams says many overseas textile and garment sectors are still rife with exploitative practices and brands are failing to address the problematic and risky nature of their supply chains.

“There’s been evidence of modern slavery in silk cocoon cultivation in Uzbekistan, there is forced child labour in rubber plantations in Myanmar and forced labour in the cotton industry still occurs,” she says.

“This is where brands can lose visibility in the supply chain because multiple fibres can go into the same textile. They can be from different locations around the world so it’s really really hard for a brand to trace back to that level.”

Fair Go Trading Managing Director Robert Roberts says the WFTO allows him to feel confident the products he imports for his wholesale business are coming from safe and ethical working environments.

“When I discovered the WFTO, they had all these standards around workers’ rights, around the environment and around capacity building,” he says.

“I thought ‘if I’m going to sell stuff then I want to know where that stuff comes from’ and so the traceability of products along the supply chain made the WFTO a good fit for me.”

Antonia Taylor. Photo: Georgy Sides.

Fair Space Founder and Director and MC of the panel Antonia Taylor says Australians need to be more mindful when consuming products and where they come from.

“We all have a responsibility to think about where our products are made, not just in terms of sustainability but in terms of the human cost as well,” she says.

The Changemaker Tour will continue on Saturday, August 19 with the Weaving Stories of Change event in Fremantle Park.

For more information about fair trade or the Changemaker Tour visit