Students question Uni sweatshop use

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A new Facebook campaign is calling on Oxford’s Vice Chancellor to limit the number of sweatshop-produced goods used by the university.

Sweatshop Free Oxford Uni, which has over 2,800 likes on Facebook, is calling on Professor Andrew Hamilton to “commit to protecting garment and electronics workers in the university’s supply chain”.

It is also asking the university to affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium, an international organisation seeking to hold corporations to account over their treatment of workers.

It follows similar successful campaigns at several other universities, including Sheffield, Oxford Brookes and Edinburgh. The campaign – run by Turl Street based charity People and Planet – has been motivated to action following the Rana Plaza accident in Bangladesh in April, when a factory collapse killed over 1,000 workers and injured hundreds more.

Matt Franklin, a spokesperson for People and Planet, said Oxford was “one of the biggest buyers of clothes in the University sector”.

To tackle this, the campaign will be looking to organise events and build links with other organisations as the new academic year begins.

“Sweatshop Free Oxford University don’t currently have any events planned. However, this will probably change in the next few weeks as people come back to Oxford,” Franklin said.

“Currently the students who are involved in the campaign at Oxford aren’t linked to the OUSU, but this is definitely something which we will be looking at over the coming academic year.”

Strategies used by the similar campaigns at other universities have included film showings and “anything-but-clothes” protests, which invite attendees to make their own versions of clothes out of unusual materials to show solidarity with garment production workers.

Andy Russell, JCR Environment and Ethics Rep at Queen’s, said the campaign was a “positive step”.

He commented: “A lot of people ask what can a single person possibly do to abolish these horrific sweatshops? I think Sweatshop Free Oxford Uni is a positive step towards this ultimate goal and in backing this campaign you will contribute to helping prevent disasters like the 2013 Savar building collapse from happening.”

“While on its own this project may not make such a dramatic impact as shutting every sweatshop down, if this project helps to inspire similar projects then they can act in tandem to save and improve the quality of life in countries with these sweatshops.”

Rob Abrams, a student who has been involved in the other Sweatshop Free campaigns, said that universities have a “wider responsibility” towards working conditions in the rest of the world.

“Over the last few years, students in the People and Planet network have been working hard to build their presence on university campuses across the UK. They’re talking to more people, shouting louder and generally causing more of a stir than perhaps ever before, all in the name of the inalienable rights of those who produce all that we consume,” he said.

“In the wake of the factory-collapse disasters that took place in Bangladesh earlier this year, it cannot be stressed enough how important this is. Students have rightly pointed out that such changes fulfil part of the wider responsibility universities in the UK have towards the global community.”

Students who want to get involved can contact the campaign on sweatshopfree@peopleandplanet.org.