SFU Blazes the Way for Other Institutions

Simon Fraser University (SFU) recently made headlines in Vancouver as Canada’s second Fair Trade Campus.

While UBC also celebrated its one-year anniversary as a certified campus, SFU’s designation could be a more significant marker for institutional change in Canada. 

Unlike UBC, which handles its food services in-house — and even produces many of its food products on campus — SFU outsources its food service contracts to the large multinational food company, Chartwells. It’s a scenario more typical of other institutions across Canada.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

As a Fair Trade Campus, SFU has committed to serving Fair Trade coffee and tea on its three campuses in accordance with Fairtrade Canada’s guidelines. These guidelines stipulate that all of coffee served by university-controlled food contractors must be 100 percent Fair Trade certified, and that a minimum of three Fair Trade teas be made available at all food venues. The Simon Fraser Student Society was an early partner with this changeover and now sells only Fair Trade coffee in its student-run food venue.

In addition, SFU has implemented an Ethical Procurement Policy that dictates the university will adhere to the International Labour Organization’s Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work regarding minimum wages and benefits, working hours, overtime, workplace health and safety, workplace harassment and abuse, and sustainable agriculture. The guidelines are incorporated into the university’s new ethical procurement guidelines, which took two years to complete.  “Those guidelines will be in every single future contract that SFU uses to engage food service providers,” explains Sasha Caldera, an SFU alumni who is also a member of Fair Trade Vancouver.

It’s all part of SFU’s new vision: “Engaging the world.” Mark McLaughlin, Executive Director of SFU Ancillary Services, explains, “what we’ve done by becoming a Fair Trade Campus is in-line with our strategic objectives. As individual students, faculty, and staff on campus — we’re all doing our small part by buying and supporting Fair Trade products. And at the same time, we’re having an impact globally.”

A COOPERATIVE EFFORT

The Fair Trade designation was a process almost 10 years in the making. As an institution, the university’s many bodies had to agree to convince its third-party supplier, Chartwells, to offer Fair Trade products that would meet certification standards. The change was student-driven from the grassroots level, but it also involved a strategy of cooperation and working within the system to change it.

Student groups such as Engineers Without Boarders, Fair Trade Vancouver SFU, Oxfam SFU, and Sustainable SFU all played key roles in building support for Fair Trade products on campus. Through events, news stories, and promotional materials, these groups were able to build awareness among students, which eventually sparked action in the university’s administration.

In May 2009, Caldera and fellow alumni Jeff Geipel helped demonstrate student support by gathering almost 1,000 signatures in a petition that criticized the lack of comprehensive guidelines aimed to advance the university's existing ethical procurement policy. “SFU had a policy with no teeth, and Fair Trade seemed like an excellent avenue to pursue,” says Caldera.

This student support demonstrated the grassroots movement that brought about change at SFU. In a recent main stage discussion at the EPIC Sustainability Expo, McLaughlin explained, “It was definitely a grassroots push. It’s so difficult to change the values and the mindsets of these large institutions. It’s got to come from the students, the grassroots, and they’ve done a fabulous job.”

Where the movement really began gain its momentum, however, was in the connecting of the grassroots to the highest levels of the university’s administration. In spring 2011, during a hallway discussion by Andrew Petter, president of the university, Natalie Gan, Aleks Besan, and Nezam Alavi , dressed in superhero costumes, led a friendly ambush of the president, challenging him to become a hero for Fair Trade, and draping him in a symbolic red cape.

“That event was the tipping point,” explains Caldera. Petter immediately got behind the idea. “Everything went from going at a snail’s pace to light speed.” Petter tasked the university’s Ethical Purchasing Committee with making SFU a Fair Trade campus. The committee, working with the university’s Ancillary Services, quickly worked to negotiate with vendors and to put together the school’s application.

Through communication with the university administration, and the constant inquiring from students, Chartwells expected the change; when the university officially met with the company, its representatives immediately agreed to support the move.

The real challenge was in working with vendors to find new products that met certification standards, were of good quality, and could be sourced at a reasonable price. The process involved many taste-tests and price negotiations, but they were able to find Fair Trade options for all products including decaffeinated coffee and flavoured coffees such as Irish cream and French vanilla — all at prices not affecting retail prices. “No one’s being gouged. We’re extremely pleased at that,” says McLaughlin. “The myths of high pricing are behind us.”

MOVING FORWARD

SFU now boasts 100 percent Fair Trade coffee, many varieties of Fair Trade tea across campus, and a number of options for Fair Trade chocolate. These changes have taken effect throughout the many services across campus: vending machines, cafeterias, Triple O’s, the Student Union, the University Hotel, the university’s event catering, and in its child care centre — to name a few.

The only holdout is the Chartwells-controlled Tim Hortons. “Tims sticks out like a sore thumb on our campus and we intend to do something about it,” said McLaughlin.

Both Caldera and McLaughlin were adamant that the Fair Trade Campus Status is not an end point, but a new beginning.

“It’s really having a multiplying effect across the campus,” says McLaughlin, who has now also stocked a Fair Trade merchandise section in the campus bookstore. There’s also talk of incorporating more products into the university’s policies in the future: possibly cotton and/or fruit products.

SFU went out for competitive bids recently for catering services for its Vancouver campus Conference Services, and all bidders were required to be Fair Trade compliant for coffee and tea. 

In the future, SFU hopes to become a “Fair Trade hub” for other institutions, simplifying the process of bringing Fair Trade products to universities across the country. McLaughlin says, “Now that we’ve actually been able to convince one of the big multinational companies [to supply Fair Trade products], we’ve kind of blazed the trail, or made it a little easier, for other universities to follow suit. We’re hoping to team up with UBC shortly to take this across Canada.”

In the meantime, there’s definitely a new buzz going around the newly minted Fair Trade Campus. “Every time you buy a cup of coffee — it might be a small step — but you’re helping out someone in a developing country,” says McLaughlin. “I think that’s what we’re really trying to push.”

Author: Bryce Tarling—May, 2012

Orginal Publication: www.fairtrade.ca