UBC’s Journey to Becoming a Fair Trade Campus

["UBC’s Journey to Becoming a Fair Trade Campus" was originally published in the Summer/Fall 2013 edition of Fair Trade Magazine.]


The University of British Columbia (UBC) became Canada’s first Fair Trade Campus in January 2011, but our journey toward ethical procurement began in the 1980s, when we began supporting ethical working standards with our No Sweat policy for UBC branded clothing sold at our campus bookstore. From there, it was a natural transition to fair trade coffee, despite the limited options available at that time. By 2005, heightened awareness within our marketplace led to a greater demand for fair trade coffee on campus. At that time, prices for fair trade coffee were 25 to 30 percent higher than non-fair trade, a difference that ultimately restricted our ability to switch. But despite the extra cost, we began offering fair trade coffee as a premium option—at a premium price.

After significant research, we found a roaster in Seattle who offered quality coffee at a competitive price. We were thrilled to partner with them. Unfortunately, shortly after our launch, this roaster changed its blend and roasting process, which we felt resulted in inferior quality. This challenge opened up the door for us to partner with a local roaster of fair trade and organic coffee, Ethical Bean. It proved to be a good fit. We buy 8,975 kilograms of fair trade coffee, or nearly 1,436,000 eight-ounce cups of coffee each year at UBC, and this volume helped us secure competitive pricing through a multi-year agreement with Ethical Bean. This allowed us to offer a retail price at par with non-fair trade coffee, proving that ethical sourcing can be affordable.

We then added tea to our lineup of fair trade products and had similar success, maintaining margins and a favourable retail price. Two years ago, Cadbury introduced a limited selection of fair trade chocolate bars that were already being sold on campus, which brought us very close to qualifying for Fair Trade Campus designation. All that remained was to form a committee responsible for monitoring continued compliance, setting annual goals, and measuring performance while reporting annually to Fairtrade Canada. The UBC chapter of Engineers Without Borders received support from our president, and the committee was formed.

Once we received our fair trade designation, we worked with our suppliers to expand our selection of fair trade products. Milano Coffee, a local boutique roaster, recognized the value and began offering Fairtrade certified coffee, which led to the development of a special UBC blend of fair trade coffee. We then added a fair trade ice tea, expanded our chocolate selections, and included fair trade ingredients like sugar and bananas into products such as banana bread and cakes.

Being designated a Fair Trade Campus has allowed us to support education and dialogue around fair trade and to engage other communities. Despite our successes, however, we still face challenges, particularly in terms of awareness. A 2012 survey conducted by the UBC Sauder School of Business found that most respondents did not understand the concept of fair trade and several admitted that they did not recognize Fairtrade certified products on campus.

To further engage our campus, in March 2012, UBC held its first Fair Trade Week, aligned with the global awareness event Fair Trade Fortnight, where we provided activities and events focused on awareness. We also held a Fair Trade Fair featuring suppliers and products available on campus, as well as lunch-and-learn sessions emphasizing the value of Fairtrade certification.

This past year we have continued our journey as a Fair Trade Campus, working directly with the many franchise outlets at UBC, promoting sustainability and ethical purchasing. The dialogue and support has been rich and varied, potentially laying the groundwork for a greater availability of affordable fair trade options, both on and off campus.

UBC fair trade statistics (2011–2012)

  • 8,975 kilograms of fair trade coffee, or nearly 1,436,000 eight-ounce cups sold 
  • 429,000 fair trade tea bags sold 
  • More than 8,300 fair trade chocolate bars sold 
  • More than 1,885 kilograms of fair trade bananas purchased

Victoria Wakefield is purchasing manager for UBC Student Housing and Hospitality Services and chair for the UBC Fair Trade Campus Committee.