How one Students’ Union won a big victory for sweatshop workers

By: Molli Cleaver
Image of University of Reading campus overlain with text stating "The University of Reading goes #SweatshopFree"

Reading University affiliates to Electronics Watch!

“If we expect our students to care more about sustainability we should be setting an example to our community and Electronics Watch does exactly that. We are embedding sustainability within University procurement processes and demonstrating our commitment to tackle issues that are at the heart of the University.”

We chat to Molli Cleaver, RUSU President, about the journey her and her fellow Officers have been on to lobby the university to affiliate to Electronics Watch.

Where did the idea to lobby the university to affiliate to Electronics Watch come from?

This was a student driven idea that started in July 2019, primarily from our Environment and Ethics Part-time Officer, a current student at the University of Reading. He saw the opportunity to make a tangible change that would show that the university takes sustainability and ethical procurement seriously.

Why did we want it to happen?

The University of Reading had announced in the Summer that, as part of its brand-new strategy, it wanted to become the “greenest University in the world”. As a students’ union, we wanted to set an example: if we were asking our students to make changes and become more sustainable, we needed to encourage the University to set the precedent.

Sustainability is far broader than planting trees or turning off lights and this gave us the opportunity to show our expectations of the University over the academic year. Recognising that sustainability should be embedded within procurement processes was a great way to do this and shows that we are tackling issues at the heart of the University.

How did the affiliation happen?

Our first meeting was perhaps one of the weirdest of the year – we came in not really knowing what to expect and left with more questions than we had answers to! Procurement got back to us saying that these processes we needed to meet to affiliate with Electronics Watch were already happening, but we wanted more. We wanted to gain accreditation to formally recognise this achievement and to ensure the University was held to this standard for future years to come.

We persuaded the sustainability department to get behind the idea so we could approach procurement with a united front. Together, in collaboration, we got procurement to agree to the affiliation in January, which meant we had achieved this success in around 7 months.

What are the next steps?

Zeid, the Diversity Officer is working on a project called IT shack, which will be a programme that finds unused computers that could have a second home and renovates them for PhD students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford the technology out of their funding. In the long term, this programme is intended to be rolled out University wide. Supporting our students like this, begins to raise awareness and engages them with the issues sweatshop workers face. This will create the foundations for the new officers to carry on this work and bringing the discussion to the heart of campus.

“It has made me incredibly proud to be part of the University of Reading and I think students share this feeling in belonging to a community that cares about making a better world”

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