A new era of student radicalism and its consequences for procurement

In France, we saws students playing a large part in the recent demonstrations against Government policies such as the increase in the pensionable age.  In the UK, to pretty much everyone's surprise, including initially the police, students and even school kids have been protesting, violently at times, against the university fee proposals.

We mentioned yesterday the possibility of greater general unrest next year, but does this herald a new age of student activism or radicalism? The last decade or more have seen students in most countries more focused on getting a decent degree and a  good job, and having a good time.  And nothing wrong with that.  But very different to the 60s and 70s (ah, the good old days) of riots, sit-ins and arson.

If students are getting their appetite for protest back, it does not seem likely to be along traditional party or left / right political lines. There is no great desire for Marxist revolution I can see amongst British students (my daughter is in her final year).  But it may be that activism around key 'single issues' is going to increase; a new generation, energised by the fees debate in the UK and perhaps public sector spending cuts across Europe, might just decide that fighting for a cause is more exciting than drinking warm Chardonnay at endless recruitment fairs.

And here is an example of students taking up the cause of worker exploitation; as the 'Student Times' reported:

Students across the UK, the USA and Europe are starting a new wave of direct action, this time directed against their universities' complicity in labour abuses. The International Week of Action, 22 – 28 November, was called by charities People & Planet and War on Want.

People and Planet reported on a range of activities across universities.  Is the 'going naked rather than wearing sweatshop clothes' idea a great way of getting publicity or a gimmick that trivialises the importance of the issue?  I don't know, but certain publications seemed very interested in displaying photos of naked students!

Anyway, for procurement people specifically in the education sector, a review of your supplier risk in this context seems advisable; you can see the (unwanted) headline now,

"Students protest at University buying laboratory coats from Bangladesh Sweat Shops".

And for retailers or others, particularly if your brands or firm are high profile, then maybe the importance of being able to show the next generation of customers that your supply chain is genuinely ethical is moving up the agenda again.  And, while there are complex issues involved,  that wouldn't be a bad thing.

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Voices (2)

  1. Jonathan Webb:

    Interesting point, Peter, but I think that the semi-professionalism student protest community have long heralded a return to 1960s direct action. There were significant demonstrations organised by the NUS against both the initial implementation of tuition fees and then top-up fees. This promised a rerun of 1968. However, these policies have been generally accepted of part of the education experience.

    I suspect, despite the flurry unusually vigorous protests, that this move will go the same way. It is interesting to note the tone of disapproval that came form the students themselves – including six-form students. Maybe we can expect a new age of sensible demonstration instead?

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