From education to employment

School uniform supplier must show it doesn’t profit from sweatshop labour, say education unions

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One of the UK’s largest school uniform manufacturers has today (Monday) been challenged by unions to show its clothing isn’t being made using sweatshop labour.

Trutex, which has been supplying school uniforms in the UK for more than 150 years, has so far refused to release information about the factories it uses, according to labour rights campaigning organisation Labour Behind the Label.

Companies including Marks & Spencer, Primark, New Look and ASOS now all regularly provide supply chain information about the factories producing their clothing, following public outrage about brands exploiting workers.

The half a billion pound UK school uniform sector has so far avoided the intense public scrutiny directed at high-street brands. But now a joint campaign by the two unions and Labour Behind the Label, aims to hold Trutex – the biggest player in the UK school uniform sector – to account.

An online petition is being launched today (Monday) asking Trutex to follow the lead of other clothing companies and publish information including a list of its factory sites, the number and type of goods produced, and a gender breakdown of workers at each site.

As many parents have little choice but to buy logoed items from a few designated suppliers, including Trutex, they may unknowingly be supporting exploitation. Government guidance to schools urging them to avoid exclusive single supplier contracts have largely gone unheeded.

Often parents are unwittingly supporting exploitation, say unions, because schools give them a restricted choice of where school uniforms can be obtained.

Commenting on the joint campaign, UNISON head of international Nick Crook said: “Parents are facing a financial and ethical double-whammy. They often have no option but to buy overly expensive uniforms from a monopoly supplier. When they do, the supplier isn’t clear about the source of uniforms or the treatment of workers who make the school jumpers, shirts, trousers and skirts.

“There’s no reason why Trutex and the other school uniform suppliers can’t do what Marks & Spencer, Primark and New Look have already done, and open their supply chain to greater public scrutiny.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary, National Education Union said:

“It is incumbent upon employers such as Trutex to ensure their employees are treated ethically. For customers to be reassured of this fact Trutex needs to ensure transparency by listing the factories it uses.  

Advocacy director at Labour Behind the Label Anna Bryher said:

“Trutex has failed to respond to requests to commit to publishing details regarding its production and processing sites.

“As a leading supplier of school uniforms Trutex must release its supplier list and take a step towards transparency. If its workers are treated ethically and there are no human rights abuses in its supply chain, then Trutex has nothing to hide.”

The online petition calling for Trutex to release its supplier list can be found here.

UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.

UNISON’s welfare charity There for You has set up a fund to help low-paid members with the cost of school uniforms through a one-off payment of £40.

The National Education Union stands up for the future of education. It brings together the voices of more than 450,000 teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders working in maintained and independent schools and colleges across the UK, to form the largest education union in Europe. It is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing its members in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The National Education Union is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). It is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.

Labour Behind the LabelLabour Behind the Label is the UK platform of the Clean Clothes Campaign, which works to improve conditions and support the empowerment of workers in the global garment industry. The CCC has national campaigns in 15 European countries with a network of 250 organisations worldwide.

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