Last year the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS) celebrated its 90th year in existence. Founded in 1922, The NUS is a confederation of 600 students’ unions, representing the interests of over seven million students (accounting for over 95% of all UK higher and further education unions).
Most UK students are aware of the NUS as a provider of discounts that help with student life (music/entertainment/food discounts, etc). The NUS work closely with a number of large high street establishments to improve product/service affordability for students, as well as driving student custom to said businesses. It is a service that works well for all involved. Despite the popularity of this service, it is only a very small part of what the NUS actually does.With Policy ‘zones’ targeting Welfare, Further Education, Higher Education, Union Development and Society& Citizenship, for decades the NUS have played a major part in UK student welfare.
The NUS also offers its students a wide range of products; the Ethical Supply Chain Programme ensures that these products are supplied through ethically sound sources. Working with their suppliers, the NUS are able to provide added value for its member students via the development of strong relationships built on shared values.
The Eight Steps
The Ethical Supply Chain Programme features eight steps, making sure that ethical and environmental values are maximised throughout all parts of the NUS’s commercial relationships.
1 – Sound Sourcing Guide
This guide details the standards expected of NUS suppliers/partners and their manufacturers. It includes a quick guide to NUS core values and commitments as well as the core conventions of the International Labour Organisation, minimum environmental standards, etc.
2 – Ethical Screening
In order to identify any allegations, boycotts or convictions, all commercial relationships are screened prior to commencement.
3 – Product Evaluation
During the tender process, the ethical and environmental impact of supplied products is scrutinised. Products that minimise environmental impact throughout their full lifecycle are prioritised (including manufacture and disposal).
4 – Ethical and Environmental Accreditation
The tender process includes assessment against a core set of criteria; the ‘Ethical and Environmental Accreditation’. Scores achieved in this assessment are used to develop the NUS’s reward scheme for suppliers of high ethical standards, as well as identifying any potential areas of concern.
Many key suppliers will be asked for support in collecting ethical and environmental information from their own suppliers, ensuring standards are met throughout product lifecycles.
5 – Contract Clauses
Terms and conditions within NUS contracts ensure that suppliers works with the organisation to rectify any ethical or environmental issues raised. If issues are not rectifies, the NUS have the right to terminate the contract. This includes breaches of environmental legislation, breaches of the Ethical Transparency Policy and any identified ethically unsound behaviour.
6 – Audits
Suppliers’ ethical and environmental performance and improvements are monitored and supported by the buying team. Where it is deemed necessary or beneficial to either party, we audit suppliers to support this process and help identify risks and encourage improvements. This may be undertaken directly by the Ethical Supply Chain Coordinator or independently submitted through the Sedex system.
7 – Constructive Engagement
The NUS greatly favours constructive engagement rather than boycott. They believe that a greater influence is achieved by working constructively within a company via an open two-way dialogue.
8 – Sound Ethical Choice
Sound Ethical Choice is the NUS’s reward program. Suppliers that excel in areas of ethics and environmental policies are rewarded for their hard work. Certification schemes are used in determining the products that count as Sound Ethical Choices.
Demand is Growing
The NUS is not alone in its endeavours to promote ethical and environmentally conscious business relationships and consumer products. One of the NUS’s Oxford based clothing suppliers, Shirtworks, is experiencing a growth in enquiries due to the ethically sound nature of their products. Andy Timmins, one of Shirtwork’s owners, explains that they are “receiving an increasing number of enquiries regarding our ethically sourced products, which highlights the growing awareness of environmental issues in Britain”. NUS approval and Soil Association accreditation is also a step forward for the company. Timmins explains that “the accreditations represent the character of our organisation, and we’re delighted to have been recognised for our efforts”.
The future is bright for ethical and environmentally sound supply chain programmes. Although the NUS is currently leading the way in this field, more large scale organisations are steadily adopting the same approach. As Corporate Social Responsibility gains traction globally, it is only a matter of time before ethical supply chains become commonplace in big business.