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100% Fairtrade and proud

Friday 07-04-2017 - 15:03

On Wednesday this week at NUS Convention, I was pleased to introduce the resolution for the student movement to become 100 per cent Fairtrade for the cotton clothing products we sell through our Purchasing Consortium.Our member students’ unions unanimously approved this and the new target, which is a shared ambition for us as a movement, is that we will be 100 per cent Fairtrade by the time NUS turns 100 years-old in 2022.

This is a big, bold restatement of our commitment to Fairtrade and a great collective step forward; one that I am enormously proud of. But why is it important?

Well, forced labour of students and the wider population is a real issue in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry, as is forced and child labour in Pakistan. We know that much of the cotton in non-Fairtrade cotton clothing products originates from Pakistan and possibly some from Uzbekistan.

Fairtrade is the only guaranteed way that we can track the cotton back to the exact field where it was grown, giving us the certainty that children and adults have not been exploited in the growing and harvesting of it.

And there are more reasons which make this an exciting move.

Every Fairtrade product returns a community premium payment to the growers. The growers work as a collective and democratically decide how to use that for the benefit of their community.

In October 2016, I visited schools in India that have greatly benefited through Fairtrade premium projects. I was struck by the real difference Fairtrade is making to the lives of pupils there. We learnt how pupils from rural schools tend not to have any digital learning, compared to those in more urban schools.

In turn, this means that fewer students from rural communities go to university. I am proud that in addition to the Fairtrade premium on all Fairtrade garments sold by students' unions we are proactively raising money through the optional NUS extra donation to help one of the rural schools in the supply chain community to afford a new digital classroom.

This, for me, embodies how our educational work in the UK is linked to global struggles that pupils face around the world.

As well as the Fairtrade motion, Convention also passed a second motion on conducting more investigations into working conditions of garment factories in our supply chains. For the last four years, we have been working with the US-based Workers Rights Consortium to understand more about the working conditions in the factories that manufacture the garments that we sell. During that time we acquired Epona, our ethical clothing company, and now have much better connections with activists, trade unions and campaigners in the countries that supply our garments.

The second resolution means we will be ending our paid-for work with the WRC, instead investing the same amount of money in local NGOs and trade unions on the ground, working with them to carry our bespoke investigations for us more routinely and more regularly.

I am tremendously proud of the commitment students’ unions have shown to ethical clothing at Convention. We are entering into an exciting period where working together, the student movement is able to lead the way in raising ethical standards, disrupting the market to encourage all suppliers to increase their commitment to Fairtrade, change the way students understand the ethics underpinning their choices and make a real difference to the lives of the people who grow cotton and make our clothing.

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