by Chris Jarvis.
The garment industry is infamous for its appalling track record on workers’ rights. Every year, we receive news reports of another in a long list of abuses – from the Rana Plaza factory collapse, to the workers at PT Kizone who were denied their redundancy payments of multinational corporations until public pressure forced them to give in. Sweatshop is a word that resonates among the public as synonymous with the vast majority of garment production.
This is why it’s so important that UEA is standing up for workers’ rights and has finally implemented its decision to affiliate to the Worker Rights Consortium. This has come after a four year campaign by the People & Planet society and the Student Union at UEA, with mass petitioning, ongoing lobbying and the largest ‘nearly naked protest’ in the country.
The Worker Rights Consortium is a labour monitoring organisation that looks at the supply chains for Universities’ garment procurement, and it now has over 175 University affiliates worldwide. As a result of UEA’s affiliation, it means that they can bring transparency to their supply chains and work towards ensuring that sweatshop conditions are clamped down on in the factories we procure from. The WRC achieves this by conducting independent investigations in factories, reporting on working conditions in light of the Code of Conduct that UEA has now signed up to. UEA is then able to use its power as a purchaser and stakeholder, in collaboration with other Universities within the consortium to put pressure on its suppliers to clean up their practices on working conditions.
Consequently, through this, UEA now stands in solidarity with workers in the Global South in one of the most opaque industries in the world. Its working to ensure that apparel purchased by the University is produced in decent conditions where basic rights, such as freedom from physical or sexual abuse, the right to organise Trade Unions, and pregnancy tests not being a requirement for employment of women workers, are respected.
Affiliating to the WRC is a great step towards ensuring that worker rights are enshrined into the ethos of the University’s procurement. Let’s hope that they continue to move forward in this direction. The WRC only ensures that garments are monitored. The electronics industry is an even bigger offender, and students at UEA are building a campaign around this. Once UEA cleans up its garment and electronics procurement, it really will be Sweatshop Free.