Monthly Archives: May 2013

Defining and implementing Scotland’s values for a just world

Does and should Scotland have distinct values and principles guiding its position in the world? If so, what are they, and how can they be implemented? These questions were put to speakers and delegates at a conference organised by the Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland (NIDOS) on 17th May 2013 in Edinburgh, entitled ‘Scotland 2013 and beyond: our values for a just world’.

With Scotland’s 2014 referendum imminent, organisers were keen to keep international development at the forefront of political debate – rather than allowing such issues to be drowned out by campaigns for and against Scottish independence.

Representatives from NGOs, government agencies and business each suggested key values they consider to be associated with their approaches to international development. MSP Humza Yousaf, Minister for External Affairs and International Development, spoke about a ‘socially-responsible Scotland’ and an ‘outward-facing nation’. He considers Scotland as aspiring to be a ‘good global citizen’, which doesn’t undermine aid efforts with trade and arms deals. Words that recurred throughout the day include: justice, fairness, equality, solidarity, transparency, integrity, respect and (environmental) sustainability. Positive and optimistic sentiments, but how can a nation define which values reflect those of its people? And who is to put such values into practice and how? Governments? Citizens? Civil society? The private sector?

In terms of governments incorporating such values into their practices, Peter Sörbum from NGO CONCORD Sweden explained how Sweden’s 2003 Policy for Global Development calls for a ‘whole government approach’, whereby all ministries must contribute to and not contradict international development efforts. In Scotland, ministers have recently been debating a Procurement Reform Bill. Civil society actors such as the Scottish Fair Trade Forum have been lobbying for the inclusion of a clause to embed fair trade in the concept of sustainable procurement. Here there is potential for civil society to influence government to consider particular values in policy making. The Sustainable Scotland Network plans to develop fair trade specifications for procurers of goods, so that fair trade products can easily be selected over others where available.

As for the private sector, the UK-wide approach of the Cooperative Group was presented by Hannah Newcomb, in terms of how the business is working to put into practice its stated longstanding values of fairness and equality in its global supply chains. Having been stocking fair trade products for many years, it is now aiming to go ‘Beyond Fairtrade’, by supporting smallholder farmers in numerous ways. Reflecting approaches taken by many NGOs and government international development agencies, she described how the Cooperative is working to help agricultural producers form into cooperatives, increase productivity, diversity their production, obtain loan finance, and obtain Fairtrade status. The Cooperative then provides the market for their goods through its stores.

The British Medical Association (BMA) provided another example of how the value of fairness is being considered in the medical supplies sector. The BMA is a founding member of the Medical Fair and Ethical Trade Group, which carries out research on outsourced manufacture of goods used in our healthcare sector and develops guidance for procurers of such goods. They gave examples of how migrant workers suffer poor conditions when manufacturing latex gloves for export in Malaysia, and how scalpels and other surgical instruments are made in Pakistan with no health and safety provisions, leading to many accidents and physical disabilities. Working days are often 12 hours long, there is no job security, and child labour is common. The irony in such negative impacts for health being caused by the manufacture of equipment used to protect our health here in the West was made apparent.

With Scotland having been declared a Fair Trade Nation in February this year, and conferences such as these inviting actors from different sectors to define further values for the nation beyond fairness, there are opportunities for academic research into how such values can be implemented by a nation, its citizens, its NGOs and by its firms.

What can we do as procurers of goods to prevent future factory disasters in developing countries?

By Karen Bowman, University of Edinburgh Director of Procurement

A number of recent fires and factory collapses in Asia have resulted in the killing and maiming of thousands of workers. Such human abuse and horrific disaster is surely a wake-up call for improving standards for garment workers, and indeed all workers. While these disasters may not have occurred in factories that are part of our University’s supply chains, we need to find ways to use our roles as procurers of goods to prevent such tragedies in future.

In attempt to begin to address such issues, we are already tapping into a range of initiatives which focus on workers’ welfare and rights. We are a Scotland’s first Fairtrade University (and indeed Scotland has now become a Fair Trade Nation), buying fair trade products where possible. We are part of the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), which sends us ‘abuse’ reports about garment factories (mainly for USA college-branded goods). Our universities and colleges procurement centre of expertise, APUC Ltd, is developing a sustainable supply chain policy and code of conduct, with input from the National Union of Students (NUS), People & Planet, myself, and peers at Aberdeen University and Environmental Association of Universities and Colleges (EAUC). However, we know research indicates that such ‘codes’ alone have limited effect.

WRC’s latest report on the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh says amongst other things ‘…what is needed in Bangladesh is a nationwide program of factory renovations and repairs to convert unsafe structures into buildings that are fundamentally safe for workers. This must be funded in substantial part by higher prices to factories from brands and retailers.  The WRC helped to develop a binding, enforceable fire and building safety agreement under which such a program would be carried out and we continue to urge brands and retailers to sign it.”

Signing a code or even a ‘binding agreement’ is just the start. Surely the only way to make a significant difference is to research, develop and deliver on ‘fair trade and global justice’. A research-led approach needs to identify what practices should be endorsed and implemented, monitored and audited, and we should demand at the very least our own contracted suppliers and service providers work with universities to access the latest research and best practice.

We have recently created a Fair Trade Academic Network and a Global Justice Academy here, and I would welcome their help to see if the University can shed even a little light on how best we in the rich ‘buying’ part of the globe can really make some real and lasting progress on standards for those in the poor ‘producing’ countries, so that this kind of abuse and horrific disaster becomes historic and not a recurring part of world trade and globalisation. Slavery was stopped (well almost) by political and consumer revulsion.

For more discussion or to learn about our fair trade university policy or academic network, feel free to contact, University Fair Trade Coordinator.

Should we support industrial use of prison labour?

Whether prison labour is, and whether it should be, used in university supply chains are questions that have arisen in a number of contexts in recent weeks. When asked my opinion on the use of prisoners to manufacture goods, I realised I was yet to form a strong view on the issue – immediately seeing arguments for (such as in the potential for rehabilitation and training for the outside world), and against (the potential for exploitation and profiteering of cheap labour by private firms). Seeing that this issue provoked similar confusion among colleagues, I have carried out some preliminary research in order to bring associated ethical and practical questions to the attention of students and staff. It is not clear whether prison labour (overseas or in the UK) is a feature of any of the supply chains we work with at present, as there is a lack of transparency with regards to product flows. However, it is clearly appropriate for a university such as ours, with a strong focus on fairness in trade (see and our Fair Trade Academic Network), to reflect on whether we should be actively supporting, or attempting to ban, prison labour in our supply chains.

My short desk-based study identifies motives behind making prisoners work. These include punishment, rehabilitation, and to save or make money. In the 19th century there was a shift in Western prisons from labour as punishment, to useful work, such as laundry or cooking. Prisoners were working to cover some of the costs of their incarceration. There has been a further shift in two waves – initially at the time of the industrial revolution, and again in recent decades dominated by neoliberal ideology, from cost-saving, to profit-making work. Prisoners have been forced or incentivised, depending on context, to manufacture goods for prison-owned industries and for private firms. Numerous authors argue that manufacturing in prisons has been used as a means of preparing disciplined, obedient workers, prepared to take low-paid jobs on release. In addition, private firms using prison labour have been able to benefit from low wages and reduced costs, as supervision and space are provided by the state. Questions are raised about whether manufacturing work carried out behind bars has detrimental effects on labour markets outside prisons.


In recent decades, in the UK in particular, the discourse among policy makers and prison officials has focused on work as rehabilitation. There are some examples of prisoners being trained in meaningful work, which relates to contemporary job markets, yet in many cases prisoners are found to be performing mundane, unskilled tasks. Overall there appears to be a lack of transparency regarding what work is carried out, and for whom.

Being a Fairtrade University, and one that is committed to exploring all avenues for trading fairly, I have considered to what extent prison labour could fit within a fair trade paradigm. Concepts of fair trade typically call for reasonable compensation for work carried out, decent working conditions, the right to freedom of association, and the provision of training opportunities. Whether and how much prisoners should be paid for work is complex. Currently most prisoners working around the world are paid small amounts, more as a form of pocket money to contribute to non-essential purchases. There are calls for prisoners to be paid national minimum wage levels, but most consider it fair to deduct proportions of such a salary to cover food and accommodation provided by prisons, and also for victim compensation. In terms of working conditions, evidently these vary, and prisoners are not able to join unions in order to voice concerns about conditions. As for training opportunities, as discussed above, while these are often made available in Western prisons, their relevance to potential jobs for prisoners once their sentences are over is often questioned. In addition, it is often unclear as to whether prison labour is forced or voluntary. In the UK, work is linked to an incentives scheme, but prisoners can be punished for not working. In several US states, full working weeks are overtly obligatory. Whether and how prison labour can be fair is clearly an area for further research.

My paper which deals with these issues in a little more detail and provides a list of questions to be explored further can be found here. Please share, discuss and comment on this post, in order to help stimulate the debate. We are looking into organising an event on prison labour in the coming months.

Liz Cooper
Fair Trade Coordinator