Emma Davidson may be ‘just’ a young Australian mum of three young children, doing the regular stuff Australian mums do but she is also a quiet force when it comes to the world’s continuing injustice over unfair trade practice.
Emma runs Brindabella Baby – an online and retail boutique based in Canberra – which supports local and international businesses with eco-friendly, fair trade and sweatshop-free philosophies. She first began her business focusing on sustainable nappies and baby wraps and – she admits – to support her own personal ‘addiction’.
“I had two children in nappies and had great difficulty finding eco-friendly and attachment parenting products in Canberra shops,” Emma tells Australian Women Online.
“I bought over 35 different brands of nappies and a similar number of baby carriers from online sellers – some great, some not so great. I wanted to provide an opportunity for other Canberra parents to fondle fabrics, try on slings, and ask questions before deciding what brands to buy for their own babies. By providing a place for parents to come together around their shared interest in eco-friendly and natural parenting, I could support the development of communities around their common interests.”
Emma began her business with a website, by doing regular market stalls and having an ‘open day’ at her house, before making the transition to a retail store which supports sustainable locally-made and international products from clothing and slings to books, toys, skincare products and an enormous range of eco-nappies and covers.
Emma’s main focus with all her instore and online products is in supporting fair trade sellers and ecologically-sound manufacturing.
“I believe that most people wouldn’t choose products that rely on sweatshop labour, slavery or environmental degradation if they knew that their choices were supporting these end effects,” says Emma.
“The reality is that we use many thousands of different products every day. It is incredibly difficult for people to research every brand they buy to ensure ethical choices, and some manufacturers, brand owners, and PR firms capitalise on this by obscuring or even lying, about the conditions under which their products are made. I place the blame for sweatshop working conditions and environmental abuse squarely on those companies who know what they are doing, and choose to do it anyway.”
While Emma admits that not all mass-produced goods are a result of sweatshops or slavery, she says the percentage that are produced this way cause immense human suffering. She also believes it is our responsibility, as consumers of mass-produced goods, to ensure that our choices support ethical production.
When products are manufactured in areas without strong industrial relations protections, it’s easy for an unscrupulous employer to take advantage of workers who can’t afford to lose their job.
In China, according to Emma, a woman working in a garment factory is working incredibly long hours, including forced overtime or working on national holidays, for a work rate that barely covers her needs. She cannot take time off if she has a baby, and if she returns to work after having children, she will not be able to spend much time with her children.
“Most workers in garment factories are women, and many factories are located in special zones in developing countries where the normal government labour laws do not apply,” says Emma.
“On the Ivory Coast, a child is kidnapped and forced to work on a farm picking cocoa. They are beaten regularly, and are not paid. They work with dangerous chemicals, knives and carry heavy loads. In Timor Leste, many families have lost their men and boys to the fight for independence from Indonesia. The women left behind need to earn an income to support their children and themselves, but establishing economic independence in a country that is still developing its governance means that many women are struggling to find work.”
It’s commonly know that overseas working situations are dire, but the sweatshop factory is also alive and well within Australia.
“There are estimated to be over 329,000 outworkers in the garment sewing industry, paid on a piece-work basis, who sew for some of the biggest brands in the business. Some of these workers earn as little as $1 an hour, in unsafe conditions,” says Emma.
“They may not be able to find other employment due to issues with language skills or access to childcare. Because they are technically self-employed sub-contractors, this is all legal within the Australian industrial relations system.”
But working conditions are not the only issue this amazing mum is passionate about.
“According to the Garnaut Report, if carbon emissions in Australia reach over 450ppm, Australian temperatures will rise up to 4.9 degrees Celsius by 2100,” Emma tells AWO.
“The number of days predicted to have extreme bushfire risk will increase from current levels of 5-25 days per year, to 100-300 days per year by 2067. More storms, more fires and whole islands disappearing into the sea.”
With these frightening statistics in mind, it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and unable to contribute to the global cause for climate change. As many academics, environmental professional and social commentators are beginning to tout, Emma also subscribes to the fact that buying less and consuming less is the key to our planet’s way forward.
“The most sustainable consumption choice is to not buy things we don’t need,” says Emma, “But if you do need something, choose products with minimal packaging, and products that can be reused for different purposes, and then recycled or composted at end of life.”
To help make a difference where you are in the world, Emma encourages people to buy locally. Benefits of purchasing locally made products include fewer carbon miles, maintaining local skills and craftsmanship, access to limited edition or unique creations you won’t find in chain stores, and works that are a response to the environment from which they are sourced.
Emma also believes in supporting ethical production in developing countries, helping others to achieve a greater degree of economic independence. If she ever buys from manufacturers, she chooses sweatshop-free commercial manufacturers.
“This means the products are manufactured by commercial companies in safe, clean factories, where the workers receive a fair living wage and do not have to work long hours or on national holidays.”
Emma has actually provided information about such manufacturers on her website, but she is also happy to provide detailed information to anyone who asks.
“Our consumer choices determine the brands that survive in the marketplace. When shopping, look for the FairWear, Fair Trade or Australian Certified Organic logo (ACO certification includes some labour practices). Ask the retailer how the products are made. Tell your friends about the brands you’ve found that are ethically made so that they can make better choices, too.”
Beyond shopping choices, Emma believes it’s vital that we learn to change our material and commercialism-rooted mindsets, if we want to provide a solid and healthy future for our children and our planet.
“In Western countries, we have a culture of individual achievement and fulfillment, which works beautifully with consumerism… fulfilling our individual desires through our ability to access the money. It has worked so well, that the vast majority of the world’s resources are now held and controlled by countries that focus on this philosophy of individualism.
“But in many less economically developed countries, the culture is about the collective. It’s about a group of people working together, sharing the good and the bad that comes their way.
A single consumer can have a huge impact on eradicating slavery, abuse and corruption by using their individual wants and resources to work for the common good. It sounds trite, but it’s true – we do need to learn something important from these nations, we need to have respect for their culture and wisdom, and we need to have compassion for the situation they are in.”
Emma’s one-woman crusade to support our planet and its people is strong, inspiring and incredibly wise. She is loving her work and says her greatest satisfaction comes from her relationships with people.
“Every now and then, a woman comes into the shop and greets me with ‘you’ve changed my life!’. It might be that she came to a workshop on an issue she was struggling with or that we introduced her to a world of eco-friendly parenting ideas or she just bought a sling that has helped her colicky baby get some relief,” Emma smiles.
“Beyond all the challenges this planet and its people are facing, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a parent and their child enjoying their time together.”