Students protest against sweatshops

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Students protest against sweatshops

By Chris Jarvis

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The student movement is always at the heart of positive change.

In 1960, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee started in the United States. It was part of the civil rights movement. There were occupations across the country as students, black and white, protested against segregation, racism, and the rights of African Americans. Buses full of students from universities and colleges all over the USA joined the marches.

There was still Apartheid in South Africa and students in Europe and other parts of the world began to organise groups for protests and demonstrations. They protested for institutions and individuals to leave Barclays bank, a big investor in South Africa. Students’ Unions did not accept cheques or card payments from Barclays. Desmond Tutu is a leading South African anti-Apartheid activist. He said the student movement played a big part in protesting for equality in South Africa.

The student movement was involved in many of the revolutions against dictatorship in Eastern Europe from 1989, the protests to stop US military action in Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s, the protests of Tiananmen Square, the Arab Spring, and the anti-globalisation movement. In each of these the student movement, especially when they worked with the labour movement, played an important part.

Today is no different. Across the UK, student feminists are making us think carefully about gender and oppression. Anti-racist activists at universities are changing our understanding of colonialism. Climate protesters are asking for a clean energy future through the Fossil Free movement.

People & Planet’s Sweatshop Free campaign is part of all of this. For almost 10 years, students in the UK have worked with United Students Against Sweatshops in the US. They are working against the world organisation that allow sweatshops and modern slavery.


Student actions against modern slavery across Britain and Ireland.

Sweatshop Free started its protests against the clothes industry and now the electronics industry. It is part of a movement of students, workers, and citizens across the world who are working together to stop worker rights abuses, to give power to workers to protect their rights, and to protest against the multinational companies who are involved.

Working conditions for people who make our computers and mobile phones are bad. Workers at Samsung in South Korea have died because of toxic chemicals without safety equipment. In a factory in the Philippines workers lost their jobs one day after starting a Union. In Foxconn factories in China workers have committed suicide because the companies did not give them their rights. Countries which make electronics do not really protect their workers. Factory bosses are free to make their workers work long hours without breaks and on bad contracts. They are free to keep pay below a living wage. They exploit migrants, they do not look after workers’ health or safety. And they stop workers starting unions. Workers suffer for our electronics and the big IT companies like Apple, Dell, HP and others, make the money.

But workers, their families, civil society organisations, and trade unions are working for the rights of workers in sweatshops. Families of workers in Samsung factories who died are fighting for compensation in South Korea, and they are starting to see results. Union workers in the Philippines who lost their jobs are working to have their jobs back and for their right to have their Union. Mexican Labour Rights organisation CEREAL is giving classes on how workers can have their rights and on gender problems in the factories. And students in the UK and Ireland are helping them. On 7 October 2016, students from universities like Southampton, Trinity College Dublin, East Anglia, and Sheffield took part in a day of action on the International Trade Union Confederation’s World Day for Decent Work. They had stalls, banners, and protested against sweatshops. Hundreds were on Twitter to protest against companies like LG, Panasonic, and Samsung, and they asked for their Universities to help.

Nine universities in the UK have joined Electronics Watch. Electronics Watch helps public organisations to check which factories their products are coming from and where the factories are. It helps them to write human rights into their IT contracts and to look after working conditions with the agreement of their workers.

Public organisations buy one in four computers in Europe and many of these are big institutions like universities. By talking to their universities students can offer support to workers in the electronics industry.

The student movement and the international labour movement are working together on the problems of sweatshops. They are working so that companies give workers in all factories union rights, good pay and conditions, and justice.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).