"We don't want your sweatshop goods"
Jotters sponsored by Pepsi, Coke machines stocking exclusively Coca Cola, Adidas-sponsored 'training days'. These are just some of the branded products that are finding their way into our schools in order to bombard school students with advertising from multinationals. But these companies, who are often involved in sweatshop labour and human rights abuses, are hardly 'role models' for young people.
The Ban the Brand campaign is a Scottish-wide initiative started by No Sweat activists, Lothian school students and Scottish Socialist and Green MSPs. The coalition is now circulating a Scottish-wide petition. The petition will be presented to the Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in the autumn and the campaign aims to get legislation passed which will ban all commercial advertising in Scottish schools by big multinational companies.
With coverage on BBC TV and radio, articles in the Scottish press, and backing from the Scottish TUC the campaign now has a national profile.
Solidarity spoke to Peter Burton from No Sweat Scotland and Edinburgh TUC about how the campaign got started and the issues surrounding the campaign.
"At the beginning of 2003 we got parents phoning Edinburgh Trade Union Resources Unit about sports days being sponsored by Adidas. Over half of Edinburgh's primary schools have had these events where a man kitted out in Adidas's latest gear would turn up to give children some 'training'. The parents were particularly incensed about a photographer taking photos of the children dressed up in borrowed branded gear as a souvenir of the day.
"No Sweat got together with the parents to organise a delegation to Edinburgh Council at the beginning of 2003. We produced some research into the business practices of Adidas.
"The council said they would 'review' the guidelines on sponsorship and gifts from companies. Right now the decision to allow companies into schools is at the discretion of head teachers. The council looked at our research but then got a group of consultants to produce a document on corporate sponsorships. This document recommended corporate sponsorship as a way of bringing money into schools!
"Head teachers tend to see events like the Adidas days as a bit of fun. Some parents and school students however see it as exploitation and they are called killjoys. But they are right. Big businesses are not charities: they exist to make profits, they want to sell their products. And behind the scenes the workers who produce for Adidas and other companies are often treated worse then animals. There are widespread human rights abuses in their factories. Schools should be a respite area from such companies promoting their products.
"Schools should be funded by local and national governments from progressive taxation of people based on their income levels. This method is both fair and ensures that elected politicians are then accountable to the electorate if they get it wrong. They can be voted out. This system of accountability becomes more obscure when funding comes from big business.
"It also raises issues of the running of schools. If big business is providing more and more of the funding, are they not going to want more and more of a say in what happens in schools?
"In November 2003 we organised a public meeting and the people there formed a 'Ban the Brands' coalition. The people involved are high school students, the Scottish Parents Teachers Council, Mark Ballard the Green MSP and Frances Curran the Scottish Socialist MSP. Unfortunately the main Scottish teaching union, the EIS has not become centrally involved. Our aims became broader - to research corporate sponsorship in schools around Scotland and to get a ban on it in both primary and secondary schools. The SSP also inserted a clause into its free school meals bill about banning branding from schools.
"The Ban the Brands Campaign now meets regularly in the Scottish Parliament. The group have written to every council in Scotland asking them about their policy on this issues. The responses have been very varied. Moray Council they do not allow any kind of advertising. But Renfrewshire Council have a Football Development Officer funded by McDonalds!
"We want to get around 10,000 signatures on our petition by the autumn and hope we can use the network of the STUC and the Trades Councils to get it distributed.
"We're keeping up the street protests too. In July we'll be organising a protest of a Coca Cola-sponsored event."
No Sweat in Scotland is building itself by teaming up with other established groups and people who want to run specific campaigns. But it all started with just one person doing a regular stall outside Starbucks with No Sweat literature!
Then the Edinburgh North and Leith branch of the Scottish Socialist Party asked that person, Peter Burton, to do a lead-off at a branch meeting about the campaign. From there another activist got involved. Then three or four more people got involved.
The campaign became known by running stalls at Edinburgh University and in the main shopping street of the city, Princes Street.
The group also attended protests at International Women's Day and Workers' Memorial Day. Last year No Sweat highlighted the efforts of Chinese sweatshop workers to build unions and the victimisation of union organisers. The group followed through with their solidarity for Chinese workers for a period of time - and that's how the No Sweat became known in the city as a serious bunch of people.
As well as all this the group established a profile through mailings to local trade unions. It was now set to be involved in a bigger, broader campaign like Ban the Brands.
Because the group is well-known it is something that activists can come to, drop out of, and come back to again.
- To help with the Ban the Brands petition or for more information about No Sweat write to No Sweat c/o The Basement, 26 Albany Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3QH or phone 0131 556 3006.
School students get organised
The school students' involvement in the campaign is particularly important because these are the people who are affected by corporate sponsorship.
Andrew Smith from Edinburgh's James Gillespie High School sums up the issues for school students.
"There are three ways to look at this. Number one is the moral issue of whether it's right to have advertising in schools. Number two is the health side of things - something like one in five school pupils will be obese by 2020, and yet you have companies like Coca Cola and Mars advertising in schools like my own.
"Thirdly a lot of these companies are involved in huge human rights violations. Coca Cola's bad practice in Columbia is a good example and another is Adidas's track record throughout China."
Bryony Macleod from Broughton High School definitely sees corporate sponsorship as an infringement of her civil liberties: "A lot of the pupils I know don't think it's right, and we're not stupid - we know that when you're at school you're forced to be there. It's not as if you have a choice about whether you want to or not, and therefore you also don't have a choice about whether you want to be bombarded with all this advertising. It's not really very fair."
Adidas treats us like machines
"The work system treats us like machines, so we have to keep working, keep working, keep working." Worker at the PT Nikomas Gemilang factory (contractor for Nike and Adidas),
In a 2002 report by produced by among others Oxfam and the Clean Clothes Campaign the lives of workers in Indonesia making goods for Adidas and Nike was investigated.
The report found that the full time wages for workers was as low as a day. Many workers are very young (as young as 15 according to separate reports in 2000). Workers can be separated from their children who live with relatives far away from the factory. They live in cramped dormitories. They have to work in unsafe conditions and are regularly physically, mentally and often sexually abused. While there have been some gains for the independent workers unions, for the most part workers are not free to organise.
Adidas do not confine their operations to Indonesia. They also operate in El Salvador - where again workers are not free to organise - and India.
Profits for Adidas in the first quarter of this year were £88.1 million. No doubt the company will get a boost from Euro 2004 soccer tournament, where they are sponsoring 5 national squads.