YUSU AND RAG have come under increased scrutiny this week following their use of the non-Fair Trade supplier Fruit of the Loom for Viking Raid merchandise.
Following confirmation that RAG had bought T-shirts from Fruit of the Loom, who are notorious for poor working standards and the use of sweatshops to produce goods, Nouse has also discovered that the brand Stedman was the source of last term’s Viking Raid merchandise. Stedman operates under the Hanes branch of retail giant Sara Lee, which has also been heavily criticised by ethical lobby groups and medical experts, who have stated that workers in a Mexican factory are “incapable of doing their work due to the irreversible harm caused by workplace injuries.”
The decision to purchase merchandise from Fruit of the Loom and Stedman arguably contravenes the spirit of YUSU’s Union Code, which states that the Union will promote “Sound Ethical Choice” of products and “will purchase, where practical, from suppliers graded highly by the NUSSL Environment and Ethics Committee.”
Ben Griffiths, the YUSU Student Development and Charities Officer, defended the use of these suppliers, saying YUSU “researched using Fair Trade merchandise; however, it would have arrived after the event had taken place.” He also claimed the Union Code “encourages”, but does not demand, ethical purchasing.
However, questions have been raised as to whether earlier consideration of suppliers for both Viking Raid events could have enabled the use of a more morally sound companies.
At the end of last term, a UGM motion entitled “Sweatshops and Ethical Merchandise” was proposed at YUSU. It intends not only to enforce a University-wide campaign against the horrific conditions to which workers are subject, but also to “mandate the exec” to use a T-shirt brand of a company where “workers receive a living wage, work in safe and healthy conditions and are free to join an independent union.”
The motion seeks to reinforce YUSU’s Union Code, in which YUSU declares they will encourage the use of fair trade merchandise. This part of the Union Code is linked with the University’s Fair Trade status, which it received in 2005.
Michael Wood, who proposed the motion, said “the concept of the union existing to protect student’s interests seems completely alien to them.” He also felt it was “particularly horrendous for our union to be sourcing its clothing from [Fruit of the Loom].”
Fruit of the Loom’s ethical standards were brought into the spotlight on campus in 2005 by a Nouse campaign to encourage colleges to terminate their contracts with this company due to its deplorable working practices.
The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation condemned Fruit of the Loom for having a “history of virulent anti-union activity” following their dismissal of eight workers in 2001, for attempting to establish a union. The use of compulsory pregnancy testing for their female employees, silent working conditions and an insufficient wage are also examples of the company’s disregard for workers’ rights and health.
YUSU Services Officer Amy Woods, who was in charge of ordering merchandise for the events, was unavailable for comment.