In the 21st century, materialism is heavily ingrained into our society. Clothing trends change on a seasonal basis and electronic gadgets are constantly being updated and improved, with new models of some of our best-known brands regularly being released. Ever improving technology and aesthetics, along with wide spread advertising across all media platforms, have contributed massively to society’s insatiable demand for the latest trends. However, do we really understand where our gadgets, clothes and electronics come from? Do we truly understand the people and the labour that is utilised by the “big-name” brands just so they can fuel the materialistic nature of 21st century society?
As consumer awareness of the ethical and moral compasses of these market leaders is improving, so is the understanding of the term “sweatshop”. However, the apparent lack of transparency from many market leaders is still shrouding the processes in which their products are made in mystery, with a big question mark over the working conditions within sweatshops. To raise awareness of the true nature of sweatshops, People and Planet at Plymouth University are running the Sweatshop Free campaign to shed light on the conditions that workers employed by the electronics brands experience and provide an effective solution to the problems of workers’ rights abuses. The main aim of the Sweatshop Free campaign is to persuade universities across the country to sign up to Electronics Watch, an independent and worker-driven monitoring organisation that supports better working conditions within the electronics industry. For many workers in sweatshops, exposure to toxic chemicals poses a risk of cancer development, working hours are long and often coupled with a very low salary, and company policies usually provide little or no protection for their employees in relation to worker safety, sick pay and the ability to form a trade union to collectively bargain for their rights. It would not be an overstatement to call sweatshops an example of modern day slavery. In addition to the very real threat that sweatshop working conditions pose to human health, many of the chemicals used in sweatshops are discharged into the environment and subsequently cause damage to both animals and the physical environment; for example, soil quality and water sources.
Educational institutions are at the centre of this campaign. At Plymouth University, the Sweatshop Free campaign has gained considerable momentum over the past few months. Our People and Planet society have successfully launched a petition, gaining a total of 233 signatures so far. Furthermore, we have been successful in winning the support of our Student Union as a motion for the Sweatshop Free campaign was put to, and passed, by the University of Plymouth Student Union council. To add more to our success story, following a sustainability advisory group (SAG) meeting, Plymouth University have agreed to look at implementing the goals of the Sweatshop Free campaign into their policies, and we hope that the University will sign up to Electronics Watch, and soon.
I want to see Plymouth University sign up Electronics Watch because I support the fair and just treatment of the workers employed by electronics market leaders such as Apple, Dell and HP, and as a university proud of it’s sustainability commitments I would like to see Plymouth supporting this progressive movement. Through doing this,and listening to our dedicated People and Planet members at Plymouth, by joining Electronics Watch Plymouth would be taking great steps towards supporting the rights of sweatshop workers and acting to raise awareness of the exploitation of people living in situations less fortunate. My question is now, When will Plymouth go Sweatshop Free?