Rags for riches

Exploitation at the heart of charity

‘Raising and giving’ would seem to be a principle that nobody could possibly malign. And indeed the RAG committee do some fine work collecting money for worthwhile charities. However, the principle of helping others goes beyond charity; helping others to help themselves may have become something of a cliché, but it still remains some truth.

It is a shame that a big event like Viking Raid II has to be accompanied by worries over something as avoidable as problems with ethical sourcing of T-shirts. Using Fruit of the Loom as a supplier of clothing is not acceptable, taking into account, amongst other things, their involvement in preventing trade union activity in their factory near the Moroccan capital of Rabat. It seems deeply contradictory to put a link to the Make Poverty History website next to advertising for event merchandise from a company that prevents Moroccan workers from exercising their right to freedom of association. This can be seen at YUSU.org.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time this year that merchandise has come from such disreputable sources. With Nouse currently raising questions about the ethical standards of Sara Lee, the parent company of the makers of T-shirts for the first Viking Raid, it’s disappointing that YUSU have repeated such a preventable error.

After campaigns by individual colleges to make the sourcing of merchandise more ethical, it would seem that there is a desire to buy products that do not encourage exploitation. Then why can’t the RAG committee – of all people – follow suit? The Union Code explicitly mentions the importance of fair trade. Such a clear-cut principle cannot be applied selectively.

This may be an unfortunate mistake but, on issues such as this, it is down to organisations like the RAG committee to take the lead. These groups have a responsibility to make sure that we don’t let charity begin at home by forgetting about people abroad. It’s important to carry on giving, but in using companies that exploit their workers, we can actually be seen as taking away.

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