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University campuses encouraged to seek fair trade designation

Halifax hosts 5th annual National Fair Trade Conference

4 min read
caption The Canadian Fair Trade Network wants the power of students to help push the fair trade movement.
Anna Cormier
caption The Canadian Fair Trade Network wants students to help push the fair trade movement.
Anna Cormier

University students are known for their ability to create change — something the Canadian Fair Trade Network knows and is using to help power a movement.

A workshop on fair trade campuses was held Friday at the 5th annual National Fair Trade Conference being held at the World Trade and Convention Centre in Halifax.

The workshop focused on rallying students together to evoke change that would bring more fair trade options to campuses.

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Torrye McKenzie is the fair trade programs co-ordinator for the Canadian Fair Trade Network. She started a fair trade program at the University of Northern British Columbia when she was in university, and knows first-hand the impact students can make.

“The students want it,” said McKenzie in an interview. “They have values that are ahead of the times.”

Fair trade is a movement with the goal to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions, and to promote sustainable farming. This is something McKenzie says potential students might find attractive.

According to the Canadian Free Trade Network’s website, under the fair trade system businesses pay a minimum price and an additional premium. This is used to help fund education, health care, infrastructure and business-improvement projects in the producers’ communities.

McKenzie says there are 22 certified campuses in Canada, which equates to over half a million students attending a university that has taken a stand to offer fair trade products.

“The tangible impact that would come from becoming a fair trade campus is huge,” said McKenzie. “If we were to change all the coffee across all campuses, that could maybe change around the whole economic state of Costa Rica.”

Although there are only a certain number of certified campuses, McKenzie says 121 others are currently engaged in the movement to some degree.

No Maritime designated campuses

McKenzie says Dalhousie University has been working on its campus designation for three years.

Angela Emmerson, who represented Dalhousie University food services at the conference, said that offering fair trade products has been on Dalhousie’s radar for a while.

“Dalhousie meets most of the minimum requirements for being a fair trade campus,” said Emmerson. “The issue is that we have multiple food service providers, including some independent ones.”

Saint Mary’s University is also engaged in the movement, but is not an officially designated campus either.

Abby Dooks, a Saint Mary’s University student studying international development, volunteered at the conference and plans on forming a fair trade club.

“The more I talk to people about development issues and inequity, the more I realize a lot of people just don’t know about it,” said Dooks. “I know people want to care, but they just don’t know how to or what they should be doing. It’s about getting the information out there.”

Fair trade designation

In order to be a designated fair trade campus, universities must abide by certain requirements.

There must be a steering committee that meets a minimum of twice a year to discuss goals and progress, along with demonstrating an effort to grow the movement.

There are strict rules about the fair trade products that must be offered on campus. All coffee served on campus at certain locations must be fair trade, along with offering three fair trade teas, and at least one fair trade chocolate bar.

At the conference, the Canadian Fair Trade Network proposed requirement changes that would allow fair trade campuses to obtain a silver or gold level status. Gold status would include offering a fair trade cotton option – perhaps a T-shirt – at the bookstore; making all coffee, tea and chocolate options fair trade and offering a fair trade course at the university.

According to McKenzie, no university in Canada is close to obtaining even the silver status right now.

We’re setting the bar extremely high in hopes of seeing major change,” said McKenzie.

The conference will continue until Sunday.

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