Last International Women's Day, the Prime Minister, The Hon Julia Gillard MP announced a new whole-of-government strategy to "reinforce ethical behaviour in procurement so that no firm providing goods or services to the Commonwealth is tainted by slavery or people-trafficking anywhere in the supply chain".
This statement reminds us that the purchases we make in Australia have a ripple effect around the globe as the developed world blatantly takes advantage of those who are trapped in a cycle of poverty.
"We know slavery or people-trafficking are becoming a greater issue as the global economy becomes more interlinked," Ms Gillard went on to say.
"I'd hate to see a single cent of public money go to any entity involved in this vile trade."
In 2012 the International Labour Organisation estimated nearly 21 million people were victims of forced labour across the world, trapped in jobs which they were coerced into and cannot leave.
"The Asia-Pacific region accounts for the largest number of forced labourers in the world – 11.7 million (56 per cent) of the global total, followed by Africa at 3.7 million (18 per cent) and Latin America with 1.8 million victims (9 per cent)," the report says.
Australian shops are flooded with products made by taking advantage of people or the environment.
The most common goods to use forced labour in production include cocoa, bricks, pavers, cotton clothing and fabric, carpets, rice, palm oil, tinned fruit and vegetables, fruit juice, prawns, cat food and embroidered textiles.
Fair Trade on the rise
In recent years organisations like Oxfam have helped educate people on the importance of Fair Trade and in one little shop in the inner Brisbane suburb of Paddington, a group of volunteers works hard to improve the lives of women living in poverty.
Founded in 1995 by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, The Trading Circle is a not-for-profit ethical Fair Trade organisation directly importing and selling 100 per cent Fair Trade products across Australia and New Zealand.
Brisbane store manager, Chrissie Sayer, is a passionate advocate for Fair Trade being part of everyday life.
"I just think it is the most logical thing to do," she says. "Fair Trade is about making positive changes to our future. "It is respect, it's dignity, it's human rights! Everyone is entitled to the same opportunity.
"I am just very fortunate that I was born in a country that allows me, as a woman, to have an education, to have a job and to have a say and to vote.
"Fair Trade is about giving these people in marginalised communities, and anywhere in the world, the same right to be paid a fair price, to be treated with dignity, not to have to work 14 hours a day, not having to give up an education, not having to sell their children, their souls, or their bodies to make a living.
"We are all about empowering women, abolishing exploitation and trafficking, and treating these women with respect. We all deserve that, irrespective of who we are or where we live."
Information is power
Ms Sayer says educating people on the importance of purchasing Fair Trade products is the biggest challenge, but she has noticed a shift in awareness of the issues over the last 16 years.
She says education will happen by living and breathing the values of Fair Trade.
"It is talking about it over the dinner table.
"It is about talking about it at every opportunity, and not necessarily with placards in the street because people often think, 'there is another protest; there's another petition'. It is in everyday conversation."
One of the common barriers cited for not purchasing Fair Trade is cost.
"Actually it is not a lot more expensive. You are getting a quality product, it is an ethical trade, and it is good for the conscience.
It is knowing that your purchase is doing the right thing by another human being and not crippling the human race or another community in Australia or overseas.
"Economic times are tough at the moment.
"People do think long and hard about what they are buying, why they are buying it and the impact it has on their purse.
"However, the more we talk about social justice issues and human rights issues I think people are starting to think, 'OK, maybe I won't buy six blocks of chocolate; maybe I will just buy two blocks of Fair Trade chocolate because it is better quality, ethical, organic'."
Creating a false economy?
Commodities such as tea, coffee and chocolate are perhaps the most identifiable Fair Trade products because they are regulated by the World Fair Trade Organisation.
Fair Trade accreditation allows use of the Fair Trade logo on approved products.
But that logo comes at a price.
There are those who argue that the cost of accreditation prices many Fair Trade businesses out of the market.
"There is a concern that the growers and producers are having to pay exorbitant fees and charges for their product to be accredited," says Ms Sayer.
"That does concern me and makes me wonder if some people do miss out on the opportunity to sell their product because they can't afford to go through the accreditation process.
"Having said that though, to be accredited means that you go through a monitoring process and if I am going to buy a Fair Trade product I need to know that it is ethical.
"I need to know there is a watchdog out there, but does the watchdog need to charge the price it does is my question."
The Fair Trade logo we see on consumables like chocolate, does not extend to other products like clothes, giftware and homewares.
"The system is just not set up for that. It is just too difficult.
"However the producers themselves will be an accredited producer of that product, so there is a monitoring process to ensure their workers are treated fairly, with dignity, and within the guidelines of certain working hours and conditions."
Empowering consumer research
Ms Sayer encourages people to do the research into their favourite products and to ask companies about their production processes.
"Googling is man's best friend these days to do the research and ask the questions when you are shopping.
"Don't be afraid to ask the retailer how ethical that purchase and their business actually is.
"They [retailers] will highlight when it is a Fair Trade, ethical product or an organic process so if it is not highlighted, you need to assume that it is not."
Hopes for Australia's commitment to Fair Trade
"Australia is changing.
"It is a slow process but what I have seen in the last 16 years has really been quite remarkable and very positive.
"The school system is really embracing the social awareness of Fair Trade and ethical trade," says Ms Sayer.
"I'd like to see universities and more corporates take it on board; I'd like to see the government talk about Fair Trade and ethical trade.
"I'd like to see more Fair Trade goods in the major retailers [like Myer and David Jones], even if it is just an area that is dedicated.
"Once they see that customers will shop with them, and the difference it does make, I believe they will see the importance of it in their business."