The University of Manchester has affiliated with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent monitoring organisation that supports workers in the garment industry in defending their workplace rights.
The WRC organisation monitors the suppliers of garments to certain universities and then traces them back to the factory where they are produced.
They then implement a new code of conduct in the factories which allows workers to unionise and to independently report incidents of negligence or abuse.
The code of conduct aims to allow workers to bypass any risk of ‘speaking out’ in a job which they could lose for doing so, protecting their rights as workers.
The affiliation follows a petition organised last year by the Manchester Young Greens which gathered over 1000 students’ signatures in a week.
A few weeks after the petition, the Rana Plaza disaster occurred in Bangladesh, where 1000 garment workers were killed in a building collapse due to a crack in the floor which was neglected and ignored by factory managers.
The WRC aims to address such situations of poor pay and working conditions at factory level, for adults and children, and has had worldwide successes in improving life for workers.
Their 2013 report into the Haitian apparel industry exposed the levels of minimum wage violations within factories. The WRC called for North American brands and retailers producing in Haiti to make clear to their suppliers that they must view minimum wage laws as necessary and that they will pay higher prices for garments in order to make this possible for factory owners.
The WRC has also had successes with companies such as Fruit of the Loom; their report exposed harassment and abuse of workers which lead to the biggest ever garment boycott and the introduction of trade union operations in their Honduras factories.
After this, a Nike supplier closed down one of their factories and refused to pay $1.5 million of redundancy pay owed to their workers. Universities affiliated with the WRC in 2009 then bought it from Nike, exposing them for their malpractice, and the universities enabled workers to request a boycott.
Nike then backed down and paid their workers the severance money owed due to the threat of a US boycott and action against them.
The WRC aims to start a global movement to prevent companies from leaving one factory for cheaper labour in another, and to enable a world where “workers everywhere can unionise, get paid a living wage, work in safety, and live with dignity in gainful employment.”
So far, there are 220 students’ unions, 181 colleges and universities and two cities affiliated with the WRC. The three criteria for institutions are that they maintain a manufacturing code of conduct, provide the WRC with factory disclosure information and pay affiliation fees.
Joel Smith, Activities and Development Officer and former Chair of Manchester Young Greens said: “The University joins 11 other universities in the UK (in addition to all students’ unions nationally) as well as many more universities in the US in trying to promote positive change for those at the bottom of our supply chains who are so often victimised by the globalised market.”
Conor McGurran, Campaigns and Citizenship Officer said: “It is fantastic to see that the University has signed up to the Worker Rights Consortium through the Social Responsibility Governance Group. This will put the factory workers who produce university garments in a far better position to report negligence and ensure fairer pay and conditions.
“Huge congratulations to everyone who campaigned on this and signed the petition over the last year, this is testament to what can be achieved by passionate students on campus.”