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NUS Discount Scheme Linked to Child Labour

Dec 19 2007 11:25
Andrew Holland
Several major retailers linked to the NUS use child labour in the manufacture of their clothes, posing a dilemma to the organisation.
Cotton fields, sans slave labour

Several clothing companies which are included in the NUS?s discount scheme are accused of using cotton produced by child labourers in their clothes. This is in direct contrast to the NUS's stand on child labour, and a blatant disregard of the aims of some of the organisations that the NUS is affiliated to.

Currently, the clothing chain Matalan, and Arcadia, the holding company for Burton and Topshop, offer a student discount when an NUS Extra card is shown. An undercover investigation by the BBC has found teams of school children in Uzbekistan slaving in the fields, producing cotton which eventually ends up in British clothes shops. It is estimated that over 450,000 children are forced out of schools each year to work on the harvest.

The NUS are investigating the situation, but were quick to distance themselves from any wrong doing. They use a company called Ethical Investment Research Service (Eiris) to screen the companies they work with. Eiris put the onus back on the NUS, claiming that they have "a list of about 60 or 70 ethical criteria, and it is up to the client to make a decision on the information we supply them with". The NUS responded by saying they are reviewing the situation, and hope to resolve it.

This revelation may undermine the NUS's credibility, at a time when they are seeking reform. Its website heavily promotes its ethical standards, and it is aware of the role it can play in positive change. The Guardian has reported that Mick Duncan, Secretary of NoSweat, said: "It's pretty disappointing the NUS promotes schemes with Topman and Matalan. Big organisations, like the NUS, can and should use their muscle". The NUS is an affiliate of NoSweat, an organisation which campaigns against sweatshops and child labour.

It could be said that this situation was bound to trip up the NUS sooner or later - by taking an ethical stance, and yet still cater for all UK students, it was setting itself up for a clash of cultures. The NUS Extra card is vital to the financial viability of the NUS so it must promise discounts with major high street retailers; sadly the ethical conduct of these retailers has been questioned time and again. Cheap clothing, after all, has to come at a cost somewhere.

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Discussion about “NUS Discount Scheme Linked to Child Labour”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Dec 19 2007 11:31

They need to make their savings somehow, how else are you gonna get your 10% off?

Dec 19 2007 18:31

"Cheap clothing, after all, has to come at a cost somewhere."

I completely disagree. There are some very affordable Fairtrade Certified clothing retailers. The cost does not come at the expense of the consumer or the producer. It is a completely viable alternative. Maybe NUS should look to promoting M&S and other companies such as EPONA who supply the Union's own Fairtrade Regalia rather than promoting child labour. If Topshop and Matalan want to offer a student discount, which must be of some benefit to them, then they should have to think carefully about their procurement of cotton.

(If M&S basics are still too expensive then I understand even Primark are able to supply fairtrade and organic tshirts.)

Dec 19 2007 19:09

A QUICK search of the Fairtrade website does not say anything about not using child labourers.

And it says that to get a Fairtrade certification a product only has to be 50% dry weight Fairtrade. So maybe some products are not as Fairtrade as they claim to be...

4. ...   
Dec 28 2007 00:58

"This is in direct contrast to the NUS's stand on child labour"

The NUS is supposed to be a National Union of Students. Why does it even have an opinion on child labour?

5. ...   
Dec 28 2007 01:04


See the following two links about fairtrade cotton and child labour:

As much as I dislike Fairtrade, your assertion about child labourers is incorrect

Dec 28 2007 15:44

My QUICK search failed to find that information. Looking at the simplified list of standards on their website there was no mention of child labour.

It would be difficult to ban all child labour with regards to fairtrade standards as I imagine that the proverbial small farmers in poorer countries rely on all the family at harvest time, including children.

Jan 13 2008 17:40

Of course the NUS should have an ethical policy when deciding the companies it affiliates with...what kind of union doesn't support workers rights?

What i don't get is why the NUS feels the need to employ external organisations like eiris to make their decisions for them. How much is that costing and won't us members get a say in this?

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See Also

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