From TuesdayJune 23 to Friday June 26, thirty year nine students from Millais School gave up part of their lunch time to work in the ‘Millais Sweatshop’.
Students were required to cut out at least 10 fabric dresses; whilst the ‘Sweatshop managers’ enforced silence and refused breaks.
The event was organised by the Millais People and Planet group, who want to raise awareness of the terrible conditions experienced by many garment workers across the world.
“I didn’t realise how the cheap clothes that I buy were made. I want to do something to make a difference and tell the government to take action” (People and Planet member, Lauren Swain, year 8)
Year nine students have been learning about globalisation and the garment industry in their Geography lessons. In particular, they have been investigating the conditions in factories used by UK retailers.
Year nine student, Nicola Mortimer-Cook, a member of People and Planet, spent some time investigating personal stories in preparation for the event.
“Every day, Asma risks losing a finger to the machine that she relies on to make safety pins. The machine is old and unsafe but Asma doesn’t stop working because she doesn’t know any different. She works so her family can buy vegetables to feed herself, her five siblings and her parents.” (People and Planet member, Nicola-Mortimer Cook, year 9)
As well as emulating sweatshop conditions, students also wanted to make a real difference by gathering signatures for a petition.
“We are gathering signatures for this petition because sweatshop labour is something all UK consumers are linked to and not usually aware of. Making sure workers receive the conditions and wages they need is the responsibility of companies here in the UK. And ensuring they do this is the responsibility of the British Government” (People and Planet member, Isobel Hall, year nine)
The petition asks that the UK government would prioritise worker rights, as the government reviews the ‘Business and Human Rights Action Plan’.
“We would urge the government to do more to hold UK companies accountable. UK companies need to be more aware of the working conditions of the factories they use overseas”. (Miss Smith, Teacher of Geography)
Those who signed the petition were also invited to decorate a mini dress with their thoughts and feelings about sweatshop labour.
Local MP, Jeremy Quin, took time out of his busy schedule to visit the Sweatshop and see what the students had been doing.
Students presented Mr Quin with the petition and asked him to take their concerns to Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, as minister responsible for the ‘Business and Human Rights Action Plan’.
Mr Quin supported the event by cutting out his own dress. He has promised to raise the issues with Philip Hammond as soon as possible.
The event was very successful with over 400 signatures collected and over 100 mini dresses decorated.
Report and picture contributed by Millais School.