I’m on a mission. After feeling sadness and disgust for the suffering of people slaving to make my clothes in sweatshop conditions as close as my own suburb and as far away as China, I’ve vowed that 2011 is the year of ‘sweatshop free’…..at least in my own home. I’ve known for years that the reason clothes are so cheap in my country is because a woman, sometimes young, sometimes old, sits behind a sewing machine in a long row next to her sisters, in conditions little better than slavery. She has left her family behind in a small town, just far enough away that her meagre salary and lack of holiday time don’t allow her to visit much. She sometimes works 24 hours in a row. Her pay, when it comes, has had her room and board deducted, so that there is no money to send home and none left over to buy herself a better shot at life. What does she think when she sows the label on my jeans? When she threads the laces of my sneakers? When she fastens on the pretty little bow on my bra? Does she know that I will buy what she has made and spare little thought for her life? That I will use the thing that her labour created with interest for a while, until it becomes just like the others that I own. Or worse, that I will have a fleeting vision of her body bent over her machine, diligently turning out piece number 100 for the day, before chasing her from my mind so that I can reach and have the dress that I want.

I’ve known what a sweat shop is, why it hurts and what I should do about it for a while now. And in 2011, I’m doing it. I’m not buying any clothes, accessories, shoes or toys that I suspect were produced using sweat shop labour and here’s how I’ll do it.

1. I’m not buying any new item that says ‘made in china

Yes, I know that China isn’t the only country that uses sweatshop labour. It is however, the major manufacturer of most apparel items available in western countries. China has become the manufacturing centre of the world and avoiding ‘made in china’ is the first and obvious step in avoiding sweat shop items. Even when companies try to tell me that there ‘made in china’ item comes from a lovely workshop where the workers are given lollies and sent to Disneyland for holidays – I’m not buying it. Because even if they believe their ‘inspectors’ that everything is above board in the factory they use, I don’t.

2. I’m supporting ‘Fair Trade‘ and ‘Ethical’ initiatives

If I need to make a purchase, I’m starting with companies that are not only labelled ‘Fair Trade’ and ‘Ethical’, but actually have a reputation for being just that. Yes, this means it will cost more. In fact, the cost will be a good clue that the workers are being paid the right wages. I know that they’re getting stuff shipped out to Australia, even if the company it comes from is an ethical one, is a high cost for the environment, so for that reason:

3. I’m giving preference to items ‘made in Australia’.

As of January 2011, the Outworkers Code of Practice, the Legislation which requires stores that outsource production of items within Australia becomes compulsory. I’m sure there are ways around and through this Legislation and even surer that people will find those loopholes, but if I absolutely must buy something, I’ll be looking for the ‘made in australia’ tag.

So that’s it. Three simple parameters – one mission. I don’t imagine it will change the world. It’s a complex issue without a simple solution and my small effort will not solve it. It is, however, a beginning. And beginnings have potential.