SOS-UK delivers work across responsible sourcing and purchasing on behalf of NUS Services – the trading arm of NUS (National Union of Students) – which operates a purchasing consortium for students’ unions, as well as providing commercial development and marketing advice to its members.
The NUS Services ethical supply chain work includes:
SOS-UK also represents NUS at the Responsible Procurement Group run by HEPA (Higher Education Procurement Association).
Continue reading to find out more about work in each of these areas.
NUS has a commitment to sourcing goods responsibly and ensuring the business practices of their suppliers align with the organisation’s values. With increasing access to information that calls out the social and environmental challenges in supply chains, there is ever increasing demand from students for improved transparency, stewardship and accountability – as shown by our research.
NUS' Ethical Code of Conduct sets the expectations for NUS’ contracted suppliers, accompanied by a robust ethical and environmental screening process which includes assessment of supplier policies and commitments on a range of issues, including worker rights, political lobbying, environmental stewardship, animal welfare and health and safety.
Where a supplier’s actions may be outside of the required standards, constructive engagement takes place to address these issues.
The approach takes a holistic view of sustainability, including social and economic matters as well as environmental. For example, NUS and SOS-UK are increasingly working with social enterprises, cooperatives and other purpose-led businesses in recognition of their broader values when it comes to people and planet.
NUS has a long history of conducting constructive engagement with suppliers on issues raised by students, and reflecting concerns in the public domain. NUS’ work with suppliers is unique in this respect, being able to engage with students then proactively engage with suppliers to address issues and make positive changes.
For more informationabout NUS’ approach, read the Constructive Engagement Policy.
In order to drive progress and engage suppliers, NUS and SOS-UK have identified several key ethical and environmental supply chain issues.
Our current focus areas are:
Plastics and other single-use waste
Research indicates 79% of students support a consumer levy on plastics and 52% support a ban of non-recyclable packaging. The challenge is massive – an estimated 322 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year and 8 million tonnes leak into our oceans. Plastic is so widely used, it is hard to imagine a world without it.
Action taken includes:
To support zero-waste/packaging free retail, NUS has…
The number of people adopting plant-based diets has rocketed in recent years. For example, people adopting a vegan diet in Great Britain quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 – from 150,000 to 600,000 (1.16% of the population). This change is happening on campuses too, with students increasingly keen to reduce the impact of their diet on the planet.
As well considering what we eat, it is crucial to consider how our food is produced too. Whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions are of course crucial in a climate emergency, we are also facing an ecological crisis. Sustainable food should be looked at holistically, including matters of animal welfare, biodiversity, social justice, land use and health. We’ve progressed this through:
With lengthy supply chains, smallholder farmers, potential homeworkers and highly manual production processes, NUS takes a stringent approach to improving conditions in its clothing supply chains.
NUS supports Fairtrade certification as a means of ensuring guaranteed minimum prices and investment in community development in a supply chain that is dependent on smallholder farmers, often operating on the poverty line, and which experiences volatile cotton commodity prices often the volatility of the cotton commodity prices (often below farmer costs).
Within the NUS purchasing consortium action includes:
If you're members of the NUS purchasing consortium, please refer to our supplier info.
Palm oil, grown in the tropics and used locally as a cooking oil, is also exported for use in a vast array of products from food products, household cleaning products, health and beauty products and biofuel – it is in 50% of packaged products. Palm oil is a highly productive crop, surpassing other vegetable oils in terms of yield but increasing demand and land degradation are leading to expansion of plantations across Asia, Africa and Latin America, destroying tropical forests and critical habitats in the process.
Experts suggest that striving toward sustainable palm oil practices is preferable over the complete removal of palm oil which would drive a switch to other crops which are less productive. The most prominent drive towards a baseline of sustainable palm oil is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification scheme, particularly the more stringent RSPO Identity Preserved and Segregated supply chains.
NUS action on this key issue includes:
Feel free to get in touch with the ethical supply chain coordinator Aqeel Kapasi with any queries in relation to NUS Services’ work in this area, including if you have any concerns over NUS suppliers.
We asked over 1000 students about their views on consumerism and business ethics � here�s what they said.