Imagine you have $1 billion.  What would you do with it?  How would you spend it, or would you give it away?  Would you use the money for personal gain, or to better the world?  Imagine the power you would command with $1 billion.  The circles you would mix in, the people you would meet and the opportunities you would have.  You would never have to work again and could live anywhere and do anything.

Now imagine you have $45 billion – if you can.  What sort of power and influence would you have with that amount of money?  There would be no limits.

In 2014 Australians spent $45 billion in the six weeks leading up to Christmas.  This year that record is forecast to be broken yet again, with sales expected to reach $46.8 billion.  The Australian population wields a tremendous amount of power at Christmas time – the power of the dollar, consumer power.  The dollars spent in the lead up to Christmas can make or break businesses, with some retailers registering 60% of their annual sales in the period.

Christmas shoppers queuing in Burke St mall
Christmas shoppers queuing in Burke St mall

Therefore, as shoppers, as ‘consumers,’ the power is in our hands.  We have the power to shop responsibly and spend our money on businesses with fair and ethical practices.  As author Anna Lappe writes, ‘Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.’  This Christmas, we can cast a vote for the world we want.  Our dollars can be used to bring joy to our Christmas celebrations, but also to improve the lives of those who make what we buy.

The global fast-fashion brand H&M opened in Australia in 2014.  The anticipation of the brands arrival reached fever pitch and an extraordinary 15,000 people attended the opening of the Melbourne store.  In its first six months of operation in Australia, H&M registered $78 million in sales.  Many other fast-fashion brands, such as Zara, Forever New, Uniqlo, Topshop and The Gap are also settled in the Australian market and expecting the dollars to pour in this festive season.  Not to be outdone, the more established and larger businesses such as David Jones, Myer, Kmart, Target and the Just Group (Just Jeans, Jacqui E, Portmans and Smiggle) are also expecting bumper business this Christmas.

The H&M opening celebrations in Melbourne - April 2014
The H&M opening celebrations in Melbourne – April 2014

However these companies and many others like them are amongst the worst when it comes to paying their overseas workers a fair wage and ensuring their products are made without exploitation, in safe conditions and are environmentally friendly.  Furthermore, Cotton On, Target and Kmart were all accused in July this year of trolling boutique brands’ social media accounts and ripping off their products.

Following the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 the spotlight was thrust onto the supply chains of clothing retailers.  The industry remained under constant pressure, with articles and reports published at the twelve month anniversary.  The campaign to end the exploitation of garment workers then gained a wider audience, with ‘The True Cost’ documentary released early in 2015.  Finally, in April this year Baptist World Aid released ‘The Australian Fashion Report 2015,’ which assessed and graded 219 brands across the country.  The two highest ranking (most ethical) were Etiko and Audrey Blue (A+).  The worst performers included Lowes, Best & Less, Valley Girl, Industrie and R.M Williams.  The grading ranged from A+ to F and while some companies received A or A- that does not guarantee they are exploitation free, merely that their systems – when implemented properly – should reduce the risk of exploitation.

A snapshot of Baptist World Aid's grading of big brands
A snapshot of Baptist World Aid’s grading of big brands

So where do you fit into this?  What can you do about it?  This is where the power of the Australian consumer sits – the $45 billion worth of spending power.  If you believe these companies should pay their workers above the minimum wage ($US68 per month in Bangladesh, the lowest globally), if you believe companies should know where all their cotton comes from (91% do not) and if you believe their overseas employees and subcontractors should be working in safe conditions, then it is within your power to not support them.  Do not spend your hard earned dollars with them and reward them for unethical practices.  If you are concerned about the environmental destruction caused by the production of fast-fashion, as well as the economic damage from dumping unwanted clothing back into the developing world, then it is within your power to not support the industry.

The 'Cotton Campaign' has exposed the plight of child labour in countries like Uzbekistan
The ‘Cotton Campaign’ has exposed the plight of child labour in countries like Uzbekistan

This is the one time of year where the consumer dollar speaks louder than ever.  Businesses are desperate for every dollar being spent and with a collective $45 billion of power between us we can vote together for the kind of world we want.

The Australian consumer is a strong supporter of the ethical and fair trade movement.  A study published in 2013 found that 73% of Australians would pay more for ethically produced clothes.  This is the time of year when those businesses need our support more than ever – and those who produce unethically, they do not deserve our hard earned dollars.

Now where does that leave you when you’re looking to buy a gift for Christmas?  You want to support the ethical and fair trade movement but don’t know where to start?  Listed below are over 20 companies, causes and brands that all contribute to creating a better world.

Good On You
Good On You gives you the power to make a difference every time you shop.  Our app helps you choose brands that have a positive impact on people, the planet and animals – and to avoid brands that don’t deserve your money.

ASRC Food Justice Truck
The Food Justice Truck (FJT) is an award-winning, mobile fresh food market that enhances food security for asylum seekers in the Victorian community by offering locally sourced produce including fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, tea and bread at a 75% discount to people seeking asylum.

Food Water Shelter
Foodwatershelter (FWS) is a not-for-profit, non-denominational, non-governmental organisation that builds and runs eco-friendly children’s villages with education, social and health facilities for children in developing countries.

KNM Tanzania
KNM Tanzania supports single mothers and vulnerable young girls to reach their potential.  Since 2009 KNM has assisted and supported over 20 young women to re-enter or continue formal education, learn vocational skills such as sewing, beading and book-keeping and start their own businesses.

Green Collect
Green Collect is a not for profit social enterprise that works for sustainable social & environmental change.  Our mission is to build inclusive workplaces that create sustainable change in the world.

Bhalo (Bengali for ‘good’) is an Australian ethical fashion label produced in rural Bangladesh that creates limited edition garments using natural hand woven textiles, printing and embroidery. Through our work we explore ideas of communicating process, tempo, skill and test and both the limitations and value of hand-making.

Thread Harvest
Thread Harvest is an Australian founded online retailer that sells and documents ethical fashion brands. In their own words, their products are curated based on four key elements – style, impact, cost and quality.

Milk & Masuki
Milk & Masuki is a funky baby and children’s fashion line founded by two local artists in Australia. All of their products use organic cotton and reflect a quirky vibrant style from the creative founders.

Uma Organics
Uma Organics began as a mild interest in sustainable textiles quickly became an obsession with high quality linens that were luxurious, sustainable, organic and most importantly traded in a way that was fair from the end consumer all the way back to the cotton farmer.

We are lovers of ethical clothing, cool design, sustainable choices, and making gear that people love to wear.  We are some of the pioneers of Fairtrade Organic Cotton clothing in Australia, providing a more ethical solution for forward thinking people & organisations.
Patagonia gear is designed for exploring, embracing and challenging the frontiers. It’s gear designed for simplicity and utility, gear designed to last, and gear accountable to the environment it’s made for.

Audrey Blue
We established our label because we believe that to live a truly sustainable life, we need to carry the core principles of environmental responsibility and social justice into every aspect of our lives – including our wardrobe.

New Internationalist online shop
New Internatioanlist supports Fair Trade producers like The Equitable Marketing Association. Fair Trade promotes a fair wage and fair working conditions, encouraging developing world producers to help themselves.

World Youth International
World Youth International is a not for profit, non-religious and non-political international NGO (Non-Government Organisation) working in Kenya and Nepal.

Salvos Stores
Salvos Stores will continually develop its donor base of gifted and new products to provide customers with goods at affordable prices. Salvos Stores will demonstrate good corporate governance and stewardship, whilst creating the environment to align with the mission of The Salvation Army.

Oxfam Shop
Oxfam Shop is an active and vocal participant in the movement and deals with 136 producer groups in 38 countries around the world who support thousands in their communities, including Indigenous Australians.

Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world.  Fair trade products available in most supermarkets include coffee, tea and chocolate.

Fashion Conscience
A UK-based registered company formed in 2007 with the sole intention of sourcing ethical clothing for stylish women with a conscience, a site which is genuinely fashion forward.

Matt & Nat
Matt & Nat is a vegan fashion line that sells a variety of high quality accessories including; handbags, purses, wallets and backpacks

Brave Gentleman
Brave Gentleman is a premium menswear brand that is 100% vegan and cruelty-free.

The Third Estate
The Third Estate is an ethical, eco-friendly and animal-free fashion retailer based in London, UK.  They mainly serve a European customer based but also have an option to ship internationally.

Synergy Organic Clothing
Synergy Organic Clothing was founded in 1993 by Kate Fisher after she travelled to Nepal and India. Her husband later joined the company as they embarked on a journey of building a sustainable clothing line with both Eastern and Western influences.

Wills Vegan Shoes
They sell classy shoes for men and women that are both vegan and fair-trade.

Threads 4 Thought
Threads 4 Thought sells stylish apparel and accessories for both men and women. They’re extremely transparent with where they source their materials and how their products are manufactured. The company also contributes and donates to many non profits.