UK Universities Leading The Battle Against Electronic Sweatshops

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Computer Keyboard by Marcie Casas via flickr

People & Planet have recently published research indicating that 9 UK universities have committed to becoming sweatshop-free campuses and working to improve the working conditions and rights of the ICT producers that they buy from.

The findings have been published in the 2016 People & Planet University League Table.

These universities have all affiliated to Electronics Watch, an international, independent labour monitoring organisation for the global ICT industry. Affiliation to Electronics Watch enables major public sector bodies to use their market influence to effect change in their supply chains. Through affiliating, institutions commit to write basic standards of human rights into their contracts with ICT brands – standards which are then monitored for compliance by Electronics Watch, who work with democratic trade unions and civil society organisations in the factory locations to assess working conditions.

The number of UK universities affiliated to Electronics Watch has increased by 40% in the last year. This means that a third of Electronics Watch affiliates are UK universities and over half are public sector bodies in the UK.

Bjorn Claeson, Director of Electronics Watch said “It’s good to see so many UK universities leading the way on socially responsible public procurement. Public procurement is a significant market for electronics products, and public buyers have a vital role to play in promoting safe and decent working conditions for workers that make the products they buy. UK affiliates to Electronics Watch are having a positive impact on the industry and on workers. We invite other institutions in the UK and across Europe to learn more about the monitoring services Electronics Watch can offer.”

These new affiliations come off the back of an increasingly active and visible student campaign – Sweatshop Free. Students at Oxford University, Sheffield University and University of Kent among others are continuing to lobby decision makers at their institutions to take action on sweatshops by affiliating to Electronics Watch.

Over the last decade, a number of high profile worker rights abuses have been revealed in the electronics industry, with sweatshop conditions becoming prevalent. Since 2010, more than a dozen workers at a Foxconn factory in China supplying for Apple, Dell, HP and others committed suicide on the factory floor. Reports this year have estimated that 76 workers have died as a result of toxic chemical exposure at Samsung factories in South Korea.

Since its formation in 2013, Electronics Watch has obtained 21 affiliations from public sector bodies in the UK, Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands and the USA.

Earlier this year, Tower Hamlets Borough Council became the first local authority in the UK to affiliate to Electronics Watch.