Blazered's Action Plan for Sustainable School Kit

As parents we should be taking actions and showing responsibility towards this generation and future generations. It's a mindset, but with a bit of practice we all can start making a difference. Let us consider school uniform. Does your school have an ethical policy about where the uniform is sourced? As schools serve as guardians and opinion formers for our children we should expect them to put their heads above the parapet and be accountable. Many schools provide parents with a limited choice of where to buy school uniforms. Certainly in the private schools most uniform has to be purchased through the school shop or a named representative often at considerable expense. But what do we know about the provenance of the blazers, fleeces etc that we put on our children. Are we supporting oppressive regimes elsewhere in the world? The fact of the matter is that we don't know!

So, we need to start asking some pertinent questions. Look at the labels and see where the clothes are made. If the labelling doesn't yield this information ask the school to find out. It is a sickening thought that perhaps while we dress our kids in the morning for school that overseas children of the same age are making these very clothes. Or they may be in the fields picking the raw materials that go into their production. If child exploitation is not an issue, then do we know about the working conditions of the workforce and their remuneration. We need to be asking the questions! Cotton has many Fairtrade suppliers now, so at least we can be assured of some standards within the production. Consumer pressure has already started making inroads into the purchasing strategies of some of the high street chains. We must add momentum to this. Some of you may be thinking that ethical buying equates to higher prices, however, this need not be the case. The cost of labour for example is a very small proportion of the garment's sale price with most of the end price going towards profits. Profits can only be made through the sale of goods and services so if we boycott unethical sources the prices will be determined by market forces, so companies wishing to supply to us will do so at a level that we accept. Competition will reduce profits.

In summary, here are the basic questions we need to be asking:

  1. Is the source of the materials/fabric known?
  2. Are children under 16 part of the full-time workforce?
  3. Is the producer already or working towards Fairtrade accreditation?
  4. Are the working conditions of the labour force acceptable?
  5. Does the government recognise and support workers' rights?
  6. Does the manufacturer employ children under 16 in the full-time workforce?
  7. Are the working conditions safe?
  8. Does the workforce receive a 'living wage'?

How many of these questions can be answered by your school's outfitter? I would hazard a guess that it would be most of them. Ignorance is not a defence. By turning a blind eye to the issues we are actively supporting the exploitation of children, condoning working practices not far removed from slavery and shunning our responsibility for the environment.

You can find out more about ethical purchasing of all sorts of products including school uniform at web sites such as Ethical Consumer. In the meantime, if you know that the items that you are selling on this site meet any of the conditions highlighted above, please mention this in the title or description.

Links:

Fairtrade Cotton - Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers (look out for the logo below)
Ethical Consumer - whose mission is to make global business more sustainable through consumer pressure.
Environmental Working Group - a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. 

Logo of Fairtrade Certified Cotton that is produced in a sustainable fashion