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.



‘...High levels of casualisation as the norm have caused untold harm in the sector – in terms of the impact on casualised contract staff themselves, the impact on students and the impact on the workplace environment more generally.’

(Universities and Colleges Union, 2020)

The last 12 years have seen increased casualisation of the higher education sector through the use of fixed-term, zero hours and hourly paid contracts. Academic and academic support staff who are on these contracts are more likely to be female or from non-white ethnic backgrounds, and report issues with their mental health and making ends meet. Casualised staff also report increasing workloads and inadequate paid-time to complete the necessary academic duties, which are likely to affect the quality of academic provision despite the best (unpaid) efforts of the staff on casualised contracts. People & Planet joins the University and Colleges Union in calling for universities to invest in the decasualisation of its workforce and engage with UCU locally to negotiate the transition of precariously employed staff onto more secure contracts.


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.

The Fairtrade University and College Award gives recognition to institutions that have embedded ethical and sustainable practices through their curriculum, procurement, research and campaigns. The award is jointly delivered by the Fairtrade Foundation and Students Organising for Sustainability UK (SOS-UK).


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.


Non-Disclosure Agreements

Non-Disclosure agreements (NDA), sometimes called ‘gagging orders’ are contractual agreements between staff and employers (or between the university and students), that typically prevent students, staff or ex-staff making information public. It is estimated that between 2017 and 2019, £87million was spent by universities on NDAs in order to hide cases of discrimination, bullying and sexual misconduct. People & Planet joins Can’t Buy My Silence and the 1752 group in calling on universities to end the use of NDAs for complaints about sexual harassment, bullying and other forms of misconduct involving students and staff members


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 2022

  • 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:    

  1. 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.    

  2. 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.


outsourced staff

2. Does the university have a policy that ensures outsourced staff receive the same or equivalent pay and benefits as directly employed staff?

Score 15%


  • Markers will look for this within an HR policy or webpage.


  • Does the University have a policy not to have outsourced contract staff. NB universities with no currently outsourced staff must still have this as a policy commitment to score points 15%

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



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 5%


  • Information for this criterion will be provided by the SOS Fairtrade University     

  • If you have become a Fairtrade University in the 2021/2022 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 its affiliates collective ITC purchasing power to reform public sector supply chains.

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

Score 30%

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

  • University is directly affiliated to Electronics Watch. 30%

  • University is a member of a purchasing consortium that is affiliated to Electronics Watch on behalf of its members at the time of marking: Currently Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges (APUC), London Universities Purchasing Consortium (LUPC), North West Universities Purchasing Consortium (NWUPC), North East Universities Purchasing Consortium (NEUPC), or Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium (SUPC) 30%


  • No points will be awarded for being members of Higher Education Purchasing Consortium, Wales (HEPCW),  as they are not currently affiliated to Electronics Watch on behalf of their members.

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



5. Is the university Signed up to the Can't Buy My Silence universities pledge?

Score 5%


  • Signatories of the pledge will be taken directly from the Can’t Buy My Silence university pledge list

  • However, universities must also display that they have signed the pledge on their website, such as via a news item, declaration, or in HR policy.

  • Universities must have signed the pledge and made a public declaration at the time of assessment of the 2023/24 People & Planet University League.


If you are a UK Higher Education Provider and you want to sign the NDa pledge see here for English universities and here for Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish universities.

If you have already signed an NDA or are currently being asked to do so, the resources below will be helpful:

Thinking of Signing an NDA? Can’t Buy My Silence

Have you Signed an NDA? Can’t Buy My Silence

For General Advice on Reporting a Complaint

Accessing Support 1752 Group

For Individualised Legal Advice

Rights of Women


6. What proportion of all academic staff are on fixed term contracts?

Score 15%

  • >25% of all academic staff are on fixed-term contracts. 0%

  • 25% or less of all academic staff are on fixed-term contracts. 3%

  • 20% or less of all academic staff are on fixed-term contracts. 6%

  • 15% or less of all academic staff are on fixed-term contracts. 9%

  • 10% or less of all academic staff are on fixed-term contracts. 12%

  • 5% or less of all academic staff are on fixed-term contracts. 15%


  • This data will be taken directly from the 2021/22 HESA Staff record

  • This question has been created in consultation with the Universities and Colleges Union.

  • While fixed term contracts are not the only measure of casualisation, they remain an important indicator of a university's engagement with this issue.

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