6. Workers' Rights

People & Planet will assess the commitment and action a university makes with regards to the workers’ rights of:

  • University staff.

  • Farmers and producers of crops in university global supply chains.

  • Workers involved in the manufacturing of goods for universities.

University staff

Universities are accountable for their human rights impacts throughout their supply chains. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights are unequivocal that the responsibility to respect human rights is not limited to in-house staff. They require organisations to: “Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships”.   

University staff that are outsourced or employed through a university procured contract are often unable to negotiate directly with the university and therefore to negotiate over their pay terms and conditions, especially when the company that employs them does not recognise a trade union. University workforce can experience a lack of parity between the staff the university directly employs and those staff that work alongside them everyday but who are employed through an outsourced contract

Universities should ensure that outsourced contracts are based on provision of decent pay, conditions and pensions, which are regularly monitored and see union recognition by contractors as crucial to good workforce relations and equality for workers rights for those working at the university and within the university estate.


Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.

“We independently check that our standards have been met by the farmers, workers and companies that are part of products’ supply chains. And in order to reassure consumers that this has happened, we license the use of the FAIRTRADE Mark on products and packaging to signal this. When all the ingredients that can be Fairtrade in a product are, the product carries the Mark”

“we are still the only standards system to be 50% owned by producers. At every level in the Fairtrade system farmers and workers have the opportunity to make decisions, and not just at the local level. Producers sit on our Boards, they share responsibility for maintaining Fairtrade’s standards and impact”

[Fairtrade.org.uk website accessed August 2018].

Supply chains

We believe that workers’ rights are a core issue in ethical procurement and we have set out to reward best practice across a range of approaches.

Across the global south workers are collectively struggling for better conditions and pay. Frequently these workers face violations of their human rights. While universities procure garments one of universities biggest areas of spend is ITC. The electronics industry is increasing outsourcing it’s production to low-wage countries, unions and NGOs have been monitoring the human and labour rights situation in the sector. Over the last few years, numerous research reports coming from these networks, as well as the bout of suicides and suicide attempts at electronics factories in China, have drawn the world’s attention to gross labour violations, including: health and safety problems, no living wage, forced overtime, abuse of vulnerable worker groups, etc. For these reasons People & Planet has prioritised work being done by universities to reform this area of their supply chains.

In order to reform their supply chains universities need to make sure workers’ rights are embedded into contracts, appropriate monitoring in partnership with civil society groups on the ground is resourced and institutions are able to combine their leverage to negotiate improved conditions with ITC brands.


1. Is the University accredited by the Living Wage Foundation as a Living Wage employer?

Score 30%


  • University should have full Living Wage accreditation by July 2021

  • A list of universities will be accessed from the Living Wage Foundation.

  • Government-determined minimum wage is not to be confused with the ‘Real Living Wage’ which is a voluntary payment by employers at a higher rate than the government’s, and which applies to all working adults above the age of 18. Read this full briefing on the differences between the NLW and Living Wage.

  • We will not be awarding scores to collegiate universities where some of the colleges are Living Wage accredited unless the central university is accredited.

  • Universities that currently pay the living wage but are not accredited with the Living Wage Foundation are not eligible to score for the following reasons:

  • A university paying the living wage one day, may cease to do so the next. The Living Wage accreditation holds universities to account on their commitment to a living wage salary and phased approach to bringing regularly contracted staff into the benefits of the living wage.

  • Universities do not currently publish salary data for all staff and those regularly working at the university through a contract.


“The Living Wage applies to all your directly employed staff, as well as regularly contracted staff. The exact definition is those contracted staff who work 2 or more hours a day, in any day of the week, for 8 or more consecutive weeks of the year. The Living Wage does not apply to contractors that supply your organisation with products e.g. stationery suppliers.

In order to be accredited an employer must pay all directly employed staff the Living Wage and have an agreed plan in place for third party contracted staff such as contracted catering, cleaning, security, parks or ground staff. Phased implementation means that the Living Wage is rolled out across third party contracts over time, as the contracts come up for renewal. These contracts are included in the licence agreement as 'milestones'. The Foundation will check in with you periodically to ensure the milestones are on track.” [Living Wage Foundation accessed May 2021].

Further info from Unison: UNISON Living Wage Campaign


equality for staff employed through a university held contract

Anyone working for a university should have dignified working conditions, pay and entitlements. The use of contracted labour and outsourcing should not be an exception to this, and therefore must be included in a comprehensive assessment of working conditions at any university.1

2. Does the university have policy on how it will establish and monitor parity of pay, terms and conditions and pensions between in-house and outsourced contact staff?

Score - 15%

  • Does the University have a policy not to have outsourced contract staff. 15%

  • People & Planet will look for this policy on the university website.


The Fairtrade Foundation is an independent non-profit organisation that licenses use of the FAIRTRADE Mark on products in the UK in accordance with internationally agreed Fairtrade standards.
People & Planet recognise the importance of an independent and external verification process. We do not agree that schemes funded by corporations are able to provide this.

3. Is the institution a Fairtrade University?

Score 10%


  • Information for this criterion will be provided by the 2019/2020 HESA data published in July 2021.

  • If you have become a Fairtrade University in the 2020/2021 academic year, please make this clear during the appeals process.


Becoming a Fairtrade University


monitoring and reforming the university supply chain

Electronics Watch is an independent monitoring organisation working to achieve respect for labour rights in the global electronics industry through socially responsible public purchasing in Europe. It combines it affiliates collective ITC purchasing power to reform public sector supply chains.

4. Are the university ITC supply chains covered by Electronics Watch

Score -maximum 45%

University ITC supply chains can be covered in the following ways:

  • University is directly affiliated to Electronics Watch. 45%

  • University is a member of a purchasing consortium that is affiliated to Electronics Watch on behalf of its members: Currently Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges (APUC) London Universities Purchasing Consortium (LUPC) or North West Universities Purchasing Consortium (NWUPC). 40%

Information for this criteria will be provided directly by Electronics Watch.


  • No marks will be awarded for being a member of Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium (SUPC), as their affiliation to Electronics Watch does not extend to members.