There’s an adage which says, “Youth is wasted on the young”. I tend to disagree and think that while hindsight is a gift received only through ageing, the power of youth is even greater. Untainted by the disappointments that come with age and experience, the young are optimistic and hopeful, believing change is possible should they want it enough. And it’s exactly that attitude which brings revolutionary action.
Universities and TAFEs can be considered microcosms of that exact youthful exuberance. Brimming with young minds and aspirations, students collectively have the power to influence incredible social change if they combine actions with words.
Over in the land of stars and stripes, American university students created a youth-led student labour organisation called, United Students Against Sweatshops. Since 1997 these students have improved awareness of manufacturing labour issues, run local and national campaigns and succeeded in setting legal precedents. Together they hold multinationals accountable by leveraging the power they have as students to influence and change the contracts their universities use, ensuring their schools support ethical standards.
As Australian students prepare to begin or return to tertiary studies, I urge all students to take action and use their positions to defend the rights of those who are voiceless. Be inspired by the achievements of those American students, and create similar change in our own backyards.
If you are joining a union, club or sporting team, use the opportunity to insist on Fairtrade uniforms and apparel. Stand up to greenwashing and token gestures, and demand the types of changes which are accredited and proven to benefit vulnerable supply chain workers.
On more than one occasion I have become involved with student lobbies and universities who speak of creating change. I have donated hours of my time and thousands of dollars in stock. Mostly, I am happy to do this. I want more people to understand the issues experienced by workers in supply chains, and I want people to understand that an alternative exists for both consumers and business owners. Yet on almost every occasion, these same student groups have eventually chosen to use unaccredited apparel suppliers employing greenwashing tactics and occasionally bearing fake logos. Ultimately those groups failed to create change, and their choice had real-world consequences for those manufacturing the garments.
As a graduate from an era when educations were handed out free, I realise I speak from a position of privilege and can never fully understand the financial pressure on modern students. These pressures place time restraints on working students and can hinder their best intentions to take action. Still, I’d like to encourage every young person to utilise their collective power as students and demand real change for a better world. Take your opportunity seriously, understand the power you have and leverage it to the best of your abilities.
Change is possible, but the future is with the young.
By Nick Savaidis
Image via Ecouterre