A fair trade education

1 June 2015

Written by: Erin Leeder

The popularity of fair trade has grown over the past few years as consumers become more aware of the conditions and ethics surrounding production.

It’s common to see the official Fairtrade logo in cafes, supermarkets and gift shops, and now Australia’s universities are getting in on the trend.

More than two thirds of the nation’s tertiary education providers have official fair trade movements, and nine are Fairtrade accredited.

These nine official Fair Trade Universities must promote fair trade, make certified products affordable and available on campus, and make certified tea and coffee the default option in all university meetings and some staff rooms.

Accreditation is completely voluntary and relies on the support of both students and university staff to be possible. The decision to apply for accreditation needs to be passed by both the university council and the student union. In addition, the university must set up an ongoing Fair Trade Steering Committee.

Fairly Educated, a support service for fair trade initiatives in universities, suggests universities are the natural place for the fair trade movement to gain momentum.

“We believe that for the first time in history, students and staff at universities across the globe can play a leading role as part of a solution to rather than the cause of, exploitation, inequality and absolute poverty,” the not-for-profit company states.

Its website also notes that if every Australian university used only fair trade certified tea, coffee and chocolate, it would double the sales of those products.

This would increase the demand for fair products, leading to more business for producers, which would help them and their local communities.

The affect of fair trade certification on sales is evident in figures compiled by IBISWorld for Fairfax in 2014, which found that the sale of fair trade chocolate has increased almost 10,000 per cent since 2007.

La Trobe University has been a Fair Trade University since 2010. The submission preparation only took three months as students, staff and vice-chancellor at the time Paul Johnson were all supportive of the movement and eager to see it succeed.

As part of its duties as a Fair Trade University, La Trobe has held many fair trade events, supported fair trade student union clubs and has been quite successful in promoting the use of the fair trade tea, coffee and chocolate.

A deal with the university’s stationery suppliers means all the tea and coffee supplied for meetings and staff rooms is certified Fairtrade.

“We also have a hard substitution system in place so that if any staff order non-fair trade items from the catalogue they are sent the fair trade equivalent in any case,” Craig Allen, the Secretariat for La Trobe’s Fair Trade Steering Committee, says.

“This means that we have achieved an almost 100 per cent take up of fair trade tea and coffee across our departments.”

Many of the cafes and restaurants on La Trobe’s campuses sell fair trade tea and coffee as well. This is optional for the businesses, which may make the goods more expensive for the consumer.

“We are gradually changing over all leasing agreements as they come up for renewal and ensuring that they have a fair trade requirement built in,” Allen says. “They are independent businesses so this is a slower process.”

Allen admits there is still room for improvement and expansion.

The Steering Committee is still working on promoting other products listed in La Trobe’s Fair Trade Procedure. One reason other fair trade products have not been so successful is that while fair trade may be the more ethical choice, it is often more expensive.

“We have some fair trade cotton lines in clothing available through our shop, Image La Trobe. However, cost remains the driving factor in consumer choice around these kinds of products. This is particularly the case for uniforms and items that students are required to have.”

Also, while the sports department is required to use fair trade equipment “where possible”, many sporting bodies require certain standards for official equipment and there is no fair trade equivalent.

But Allen is confident the Steering Committee can continue to raise the profile of fair trade products at La Trobe University, particularly with the help of students.

“The Fair Trade Steering Committee is always keen to support new initiatives that the students might have for awareness raising events and activities on our campuses,” he says.

“I believe that fair trade still resonates well with both the staff and student communities and, as a result, we will see fair trade going from strength to strength on our campuses.”


Erin LeederErin Leeder is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student and upstart’s Culture and Lifestyle editor. You can find her on Twitter: @155erin.




Featured image by Fairtrade via Wikimedia Commons