Thursday, 4 September 2014

Fair trade and school uniform (Bucks Advertiser August 2014)

I’ve been thinking about fair trade and school uniforms. This is the time of year when some of us are starting to kit our kids out for the academic year ahead, and if we made the scuffed shoes and grey-cuffed shirts that didn’t quite reach the wrist any more last till the end of the summer term, now we are preparing to put our kids’ best (smart) foot forward.

So let’s shop around for bargains. Can we get three for two at the local supermarket? Which store is winning this race to the bargain basement? It’s a lucrative corner of the market – you can tell from the amount of advertising.

This is what worries me; we have all seen the conditions faced by textile workers in developing countries – long hours, poor wages, industrial injuries, death-trap buildings. Charities such as Oxfam highlight the plight of children foregoing education to go out to work. So are we, when we buy cheap clothes for our kids to wear to school, depriving children far away, beyond our ken, of their chance to learn, therefore hard-wiring poverty into their lives? Are low costs in our shops the result of child labour?

Never raise a problem without suggesting a solution, so here goes. First, before you buy, ask what the store’s policy is on child labour. (Although once when I did this, I got the reply, “28 days, Madam”). You can also look on stores’ websites for their ethical and labour policies and base your choices on that; it feels good, even if it costs a little more. See if your child’s school runs a second hand uniform shop, and if not, set one up with profits going to the PTA. Ask if a store stocks fair trade school shirts – if enough of us do this, then maybe next year, it will. Second hand stuff – always good, too. Consider donating to charities such as Labour behind the Label. (Have a look at their excellent website if you want to know more).

In a world in which the UN International Labour Organisation estimates that 168 million children worldwide – one in ten – are involved in child labour, it is easy to feel powerless and disengaged, but we mustn’t. There is always something we can do; not least we can use the power in our purses and decide that we will no longer be part of the problem.

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