Small scale student protests are getting us nowhere.
In a campaign even more pedestrian than those run by YUSU candidates, York’s People and Planet contingent sat outside Topshop and handed in some ill-received comment cards. Dressed in a way that suggested a visit to Topshop would do them good, they expressed surprise that the comment cards, ingeniously labelled ‘Sweatshop’ and full of anti-Arcadia diatribe, were not passed on to head office. In reality, the campaigners should be grateful; the gleeful binning of these cards simply engaged the process of their biodegradation earlier. No-one was ever going to look at them; if a Sunday Times exposé can’t change anything, they certainly won’t.
This sounds horribly negative, but by the time customers have evaded Big Issue sellers and despatched of Age Concern, they’re ready for some uninterrupted retail therapy. Instead, they get lectured. Security ejected the bothersome few, and quite right too.
This is the second year on the trot that People and Planet has boycotted a shop – last time it was budget-Mecca Primark. The campaign stopped approximately zero people from shopping there, which I’m sure People and Planet would expect; they simply want to raise awareness, but raising awareness is always so bloody annoying. And what are they actually raising awareness of? It’s pretty obvious that you don’t get nice looking £3 t-shirts from healthy, happy workers. Unless they’re under the delusion that they can make a big change in the nation’s shopping habits, then such a campaign seems to have the less noble motivation of drawing attention to their organisation rather than the cause. Targeting Topshop is just a ploy for a brief window of media attention.
The aims of the Ethical Trading Initiative, the piece of legislation that the Arcadia group has refused to sign, seem reasonable enough. But between all employees doing a working week of 48 hours and all students being able to buy affordable clothes, I know what will win. I’m so bored of ethical merchandise it’s untrue. Of course it’s deplorable that Topshop clothes are made in sweatshops using cotton picked by child labourers, but having been bombarded with campaigns few will actually care enough to stop buying unethical merchandise.
Case in point, the beloved Viking Raid. Had that not gone ahead because of struggles to find ethically sourced t-shirts there would have been outrage in the student population. And those Gladiator hands waving at the YUSU election results – environmentally friendly? I think not. Students generally operate on a mild moralistic plateau that lets them agree with all the right causes unless supporting the cause incurs financial burden or the restriction of fun. When a campaign is as hopeless as the one to force corporate wonder Arcadia Group into having a conscience, you have to expect rebuttal from customers and security guards alike.