Ethical sourcing: giving your union a clear conscience.
By Kirat Raj Singh, Vice President Education & Welfare | Birmingham City Students' Union
The ethical sourcing workshop hosted by Sophie Sharp from NUSSL, provided a new way of looking at how we run some of our services at our unions. The student movement has been long committed to using ethical companies, which fit in with our ethos, and ensuring we practice what we preach.
Some of the issues raised in the workshop however helped us realise how much work is still left to do in regards to ethical sourcing and what issues can be raised over perceived affiliations to companies which may “prick our conscience.”
An example of this was Starbucks' coffee shops on our campuses, despite being in the media recently for not paying much income tax in the UK. Many students in the workshop felt that this may seem like the union condoned their behavior by promoting their brand amongst the student population.
It was also seen that student leaders at present put ethical sourcing above cost and income. This meant that they would prefer to keep the “unions conscience” clean regardless of the cost involved or how it would affect levels of income.
Unions such as Portsmouth have already got a policy in place where the meat they supply originates from the county, therefore cutting down carbon footprint and supporting local farmers instead of unethical national supplier’s which sometimes are accused of animal rights abuses.
Sophie was however keen to emphasise the need of constructively engaging with the concerned suppliers to help make change. The concept of boycotting and banning unethical companies and suppliers only brought partial success.
It was agreed that it would be more useful to open up the channels of communication in regards to expressing your concerns and helping them address the issues.
We are in a more powerful position sitting across a table engaging in dialogue with the suppliers, rather than standing outside in protest. (That is not to say that protests are not useful).
In the end, we were reminded that the NUSSL are available to help us run and maintain ethical campaigns, and also to find suppliers which understand the student population and its needs, concerns and queries.