No sweat: stash sourced ethically3rd February 2011
A motion was proposed at Wednesday’s OUSU council to encourage students to consider the sourcing of clothing bought for college and university societies and teams.
The proposal asks all JCR Environment & Ethics officers to ensure that clothing bought as “stash” – hoodies for a specific event or team, for example – is ethically sourced and produced.
The motion is a response to the Buy Right campaign, which seeks to ensure that human rights are supported throughout universities’ supply chains by affiliation with the Workers’ Rights Consortium, an independent labour rights organisation.
Buy Right is part of the nationwide People and Planet student organisation, which campaigns for human rights.
Sean Robinson, who proposed the motion, explained his motivation: “This is to show the support of students, and to appeal to JCRs and colleges that ethical sourcing is possible.”
The proposal hoped “to mandate the OUSU Environment & Ethics committee to campaign for Oxford Limited to affiliate with the WRC”.
Oxford Limited, a subsidiary company of the University, controls the intellectual property rights of the words “Oxford University” when used on stash clothing. Currently no external body audits the factories in which Oxford University accredited clothing is made.
Daniel Lowe, who seconded the motion, said: “Oxford Limited currently has an ethical policy, that if followed, stands it in very good stead. Unfortunately, without external accreditation, only Oxford Limited can say whether or not the policy is being followed. External accreditation will provide sound peace of mind and negate the need for costly freelance investigations.”
Robinson added: “It is not the result of one evil factory [that human rights abuses might occur]. But there is no transparency in the system, and signing up to an independent body that can demand transparency will ensure human rights abuse free supply chains”, in any context. He also said that OUSU and Oxford Limited were working well together to ensure that ethical product sourcing remained on the agenda.
Oxford Limited managing director Chris Evans said: “We work very clearly to ensure all garments are ethically sound. We have no concern that any product carrying the Oxford University name is of low ethical standards.”
He acknowledged the higher cost of the organic and Fairtrade options that Oxford Limited offer for stash purchases: “We can influence, but not direct” the decisions of teams and societies. He estimated the premium for goods bearing these quality markers at ten percent, adding that it was a case of “educating the consumer” about the reasons for the extra cost.
Last year, 12 clubs and socities pledged to source their stash without using sweatshop-manufactured garments as part of OUSU E & E committee campaigning.
Corpus Christi Drama Society, Owlets, was one of the societies that signed the pledge. Society President Jacob Diggle said they had been able to maintain their promise: “The Fairtrade stash was about ten percent more expensive, but is actually better quality than the non-Fairtrade stuff.”
Lowe commented on OUSU’s position: “Both OUSU and RAG have a Fairtrade stash policy. This policy, in line with guidance from the Fairtrade Foundation is to, where possible, use Fairtrade products. Where a Fairtrade product is not available (through item specification, colour, design issues) then a non-Fairtrade product may be used instead.”
Robinson acknowledged that some team and society captains might not be willing to pay the premium for ethically produced goods, but that this was an issue “with all environmental concerns”. He said the motion would work to equip E & E reps with the “resources” to ensure all stash is sweatshop free: “It is a nudge in the right direction.”