AU President Tom Moore has admitted to breaking union code by refusing to comply with UGM policy on ethical merchandise. Moore also admitted that dates he had previously given to Nouse for when he ordered the Roses merchandise were untrue.
Moore ordered hundreds of pounds worth of Fruit of the Loom merchandise through sports supplier ADM in mid-April, despite the UGM motion ‘Sweatshops and Ethical Merchandise’ which states that “the Union should purchase all merchandise from suppliers recommended by the People & Planet Ethical Merchandise Guide”. Fruit of the Loom does not feature on the Ethical Merchandise Guide and has been condemned on many occasions for exploitation of workers.
When it was put to Moore that he had ignored the will of the UGM, the sovereign body of the union, he said, “I’m admitting that, yes, I would have thought that’s obvious.” When questioned on why he had ignored a motion that passed with a majority of 180 votes, Moore said, “Can I ask you a question? Do you actually think the vast majority of students are that bothered? I’m sure some of them are, but I don’t care about that.”
When questioned in May about the decision not to buy Roses merchandise from an acknowledged ethical source, Moore originally claimed that he had put in the order “weeks” before the UGM motion passed on March 8. Moore has since admitted that the order was placed in mid-April, over a month after the motion became active policy.
Moore said he was “legally obligated” to buy from ADM and that this obligation prevented him from honouring union code. However, ADM offer an “Ethical Merchandise Range” which would have allowed Moore to honour both the union code and his legal obligations. Moore said he did not use this option because of previous problems with the YUSU Fairtrade hoodies, which he claimed took seven months to arrive. The ADM website says Fairtrade merchandise should be with the buyer within four to five weeks of placing the order.
Moore claimed the UGM motion should never have been allowed through the Rules Committee, responsible for ensuring all proposed motions are possible to implement. “The motion shouldn’t have been put to the Rules Committee in the first place,” he said. “It goes against the union code and legal obligations… I’m not blaming them, because I don’t think it’s their fault, but the Rules Committee weren’t fully aware of the situation.”
Moore’s fellow YUSU officers were divided in their reactions. Environment and Ethics Officer Tom Langley said he was “very disappointed” with Moore’s actions. He said “there’s no argument about it [Moore’s breaking of the union code]. It’s our responsibility to follow Union policy, but what’s really important is that in the future we follow it properly.” YUSU President Rich Croker said he was unable to comment on the situation, saying, “In accordance with the media charter, I cannot as a Union Officer speak out against the actions of a fellow officer and thus cannot answer your question.”
Croker defended YUSU’s overall ethical record, saying, “The Union was the main driver behind the University’s fair trade status. The Viking Raid T-shirts were purchased in accordance with UGM policy at the time.”
YUSU has previously faced criticism for the purchase of thousands of Fruit of the Loom T-shirts for Viking Raid. The incident sparked a high profile People & Planet “No Sweat” campaign. The campaign is credited as being a driving force behind the successful passage of the the most recent ethical merchandise UGM motion.
Fruit of the Loom have been condemned by the International Textile Garments and Leather Workers Federation as having “a history of virulent anti-union activity” as well as overworking employees and providing wages described as “poverty pay.”
Ethical merchandise policy has long been a issue at York. In 2005, Derwent was the first college to unilaterally abandon contracts with the company over ethical issues. The contract for the college’s distinctive DCUK merchandise was moved to another company.
Nina Mackellow, a member of People & Planet’s University Merchandise & Sweatshops Campaign Team, said the ADM contract was now being discussed in order to ensure that the most recent incident of purchasing unethical merchandise “will be the last occurrence of its kind”. She said the Campaigns Team and Environment and Ethics Officers were working hard “along with Amy Woods, Matt Burton and the Ents officers to find suitable suppliers to cover future YUSU events”.
The University of York gained official Fairtrade status in February 2005. There are currently 55 Fairtrade universities in Britain, York being the 12th to gain official status after meeting the five qualifying criteria.