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The Big Debate – The Co-op and consumer choice

“The Co-op gives students what they want” by Philip Chartell-Hoyer

The new Co-operative supermarket on campus sells everything from milk to dog food, as well as several items banned by the Students’ Union, including spirits, lads’ magazines, Coca-Cola and Israeli goods.

The Co-operative should be selling these items because Sussex students have the right to choose which products they purchase. Banning items from Co-op would be counterproductive and result in a significant erosion of freedom of Sussex students.

Israeli goods and Coca-Cola are not banned nationally but have been banned by the Students’ Union due to the political opinions of the people who chose to vote in these referendums.

It does not represent the opinion of the student body as a whole and as the Co-operative supermarket now operates the only proper store on campus, students would have their right to choice undermined.

It would be irrational for the ban to be extended to the campus supermarket when all of the Sussex Food outlets and vending machines on campus sell Coca-Cola and might use Israeli produce in food production.

Spirits are banned on the basis of student welfare, something which has been passed without a referendum by the student body. While alcohol obviously poses a risk to students’ health, spirits are not significantly riskier than other alcohols.

Moreover, the policy by the Students’ Union to ban spirits is hypocritical because spirits are sold in its bars. While the Student’s Union may claim that this a safer avenue because bar staff are legally obliged not to serve anyone who is clearly intoxicated, promotions such as “double up for £1” clearly does not encourage responsible drinking.

Lads’ magazines do not pose a risk to student welfare. Ethical objections can be made to the content of the magazines, but it must be up to the individual student to assess whether the magazine conflicts with their personal values.

While some might contend that they objectify women, that is merely one opinion and this value code should not be applied universally. There are many magazines that may have objectionable content to some people, such as magazines portraying a particular political or religious perspective.

This is why we have freedom of press and speech. The Co-op won the bid for running a supermarket in the refurbished Bramber House based on a commitment to provide a service to the student body.

The original agreement between the Union and the Southern Co-operative was that the Co-op would have control over which products are sold in the store. The Co-op sells many Fairtrade products and even has their own line of ethical water, but they also sell products which do not necessarily engage in ethical trading.

If the individual student feels that producers are not living up to standards which they expect, then they can choose to boycott them as individuals. This is not so much as issue of whether the basis for these bans is right but whether they would warrant such a substantial erosion of freedom of choice.

The Co-op is a privately run company which provides consumers with choices. Individual customers must weigh what they purchase against their own moral code, and not have Students’ Union politics literally shoved down their throats.

“The Co-op should respect Sussex values” by Jade Warrick

There’s no denying it. There’s something truly captivating about the aromas that waft out the new Co-operative Store’s bakery section. Equally, the gargantuan range of confectionary and the welcome distraction of strategically placed biscuits draw considerable attention to the shop.

With sales far surpassing those initially expected, and by employing many Sussex students, the Co-op has certainly been welcomed by the student body at large. However, that’s not to say that some aspects of the shop aren’t in need of urgent revision.

It is curious that the Co-operative, a business that can expect an overwhelming proportion of its sales to come from Sussex students, has taken the decision to ignore democratic decisions made by the Students’ Union (SU).

For instance, around five years ago, the Union banned the sale of all Nestlé products as a result of the company’s unjust manipulation of third world countries. Additionally, Coca-Cola was boycotted as a result of human rights abuses against its employees. These companies have huge profit margins and widespread financial and social influence, yet they choose to operate unethically.

The SU does not endorse the actions of these companies, nor does it welcome their products on campus. What’s more, there are perfectly viable alternatives to these blacklisted products. Ubuntu, a fairtrade cola, sells extremely well in Falmer shop, the SU outlet, as do chocolate alternatives to Nestlé.
If another shop on campus can follow the example of the SU, then why can’t the Co-op co-operate?

Controversially, the Co-op also sells alcoholic spirits – products that have been banned by university management. The exclusion of highly alcoholic products ensures the health and safety of students, it is not designed to stop them drinking. Students have always been able to buy lagers, ciders and wines on campus; however, it is viewed that over-accessibility of spirits would be disadvantageous.

If students are particularly keen on buying spirits, there’s nothing stopping them from purchasing them off campus – buying them this way means they are far less likely to buy them on the spur-of-the-moment when they’re already inebriated.

To make matters worse, the sale of spirits in the Co-op could lead to a decline of ‘soft’ alcohol sales elsewhere on campus, a consequence that hardly seems fair for organisations abiding by the rules.

Furthermore, the Co-op sells ‘lads’ magazines’ which the SU boycotted due to their derogatory portrayal of women. It seems only fair that the Co-op should respect the females on campus by honouring the decision of the Union. It should be noted that for the price of one issue of Loaded, typically £3.60, a student could by nine copies of The Independent or twelve copies of The Times from other campus outlets.

I’m not saying that campus consumers shouldn’t have a right to freedom of choice, naturally they do, and they may purchase anything they wish to off campus.

This being said, it should be the students who decide which products should be sold on their campus rather than an independent company. After all, there’s very little point in holding an AGM if the decisions passed are not adhered to. Why should the Union give people the right and opportunity to improve the university and allow the Co-op to undermine their decision?

In conclusion, if the Co-op made a mutually advantageous effort to assist the SU by reinforcing their elected policies, both organisations would appear as more valuable, effective, and respectable bodies to Sussex students!

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