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Why did UW Oshkosh decide to become fair trade?

UW Oshkosh has been committed to sustainability and greening the campus throughout this decade. We also affirm the responsibility of the university to take stands for social justice and ecological integrity. For instance, in 2002 we became one of a handful of campuses that officially endorsed the Earth Charter. Supporting fair trade is an extension of those commitments.


What was the process of becoming a fair trade university?

We started selling fair trade products and had our first Fair Trade Festival in 2005. In the fall of 2007 we started a campaign to become a Fair Trade University. This involved:

  • shaping an initial proposal, based on the Fair Trade University criteria in the United Kingdom
  • educating students, faculty and staff about fair trade and the proposal
  • working with our dining services provider, Sodexo, to bring more fair trade to campus
  • consulting with the administration concerning their request for proposals for the new dining services contract
  • speaking with the Fair Trade Towns movement concerning the resolution (as there is no national Fair Trade University governing body)
  • working with the University administration on the wording of the proposal
  • revising the proposal based on the above conversations
  • bringing the proposal to student groups and academic departments for their support
  • bringing the proposal to the four governance groups: Faculty Senate, Senate of the Academic Staff, Classified Staff Advisory Council and Oshkosh Student Association, which was approved by early May of 2008 when they all voted to support the resolution
  • sending the proposal to the University of Wisconsin legal department to make sure the proposal was appropriate—small changes were made (summer 2008)
  • having the new wording re-approved by the four governance groups (late summer 2008); and 
  • the Chancellor declaring that we are a Fair Trade University (Sept. 2, 2008)

What are the next steps?

The Campus Sustainability Council is just forming and within it a Fair Trade Committee will be created with people from various parts of the campus. They will make decisions about fair trade initiatives that will expand UW Oshkosh's offerings and promote the fair trade movement.


What are the characteristics of a Fair Trade University?

Since there is no governing body to supply a national standard in the U.S., right now it is up to individual universities to decide what the criteria are for a Fair Trade University. We developed our criteria by adapting the Fair Trade University guidelines in the United Kingdom to our particular situation. The guidelines in the U.K. are as follows: 

1. Has a Fairtrade University Steering Group

2. Has a written Fairtrade Policy

3. Sells Fairtrade products in all outlets

4. Uses Fairtrade products at internal meetings and events

5. Campaigns for increased consumption of Fairtrade products on campus


Is there a governing body that bestows the status of Fair Trade University?

There is currently no governing body overseeing Fair Trade Universities in the United States. There is such a body in the United Kingdom, where there are around 60 universities who have declared themselves as Fair Trade Universities. In the U.S., there is an organization called Fair Trade Towns that encourages cities to become Fair Trade Towns. If more universities follow in UW Oshkosh’s footsteps, a Fair Trade University group will likely form in the U.S.


So what does it take for a university to be recognized as Fair Trade?

With no governing body, right now it is up to individual universities to decide what the criteria are and to declare itself a Fair Trade University. This is certainly not the ideal situation. One of the goals of taking the step of declaring ourselves a Fair Trade University is to encourage the formation of a governing body.


Who will monitor UW Oshkosh to ensure it lives up to Fair Trade University status?

Isn’t there a danger that the declaration will remain largely a shallow public relations stunt? Yes, that danger is real. It is easy to fall into greenwashing. It is crucial that the university push itself and critique itself. Monitoring our progress is part of the responsibility of the Campus Sustainability Council and the Campus Sustainability Director (who we will hire soon) and the annual sustainability report will address what we have achieved and what more we need to do. The important thing is to recognize that the declaration is a starting point, something that gives us direction in doing all we can.


Are there constraints in purchasing Fair Trade products?

Yes. In some cases, we may be legally bound to contracts with suppliers who do not have Fair Trade products. In other cases, certain types of Fair Trade products simply might not be available yet—there are more becoming available every year. And it might be that in a few cases a Fair Trade product is so much more expensive that its cost is prohibitive. This is why in our declaration we use the term “whenever possible.” We have to be realistic about constraints, otherwise you end up saying you will do what you really can’t. But at the same time we need to keep pushing not only ourselves but also our suppliers, and we have to avoid using the constraints as a rationalization for not doing what we can and should.


What are the costs associated with Fair Trade items on a large scale for the university?

Actually, the additional costs are not that much. Sodexho estimated that offering Fair Trade coffee at the student dining hall would cost students around $1.00 a year. Individual cups of coffee at satellite stations will be slightly more. As more Fair Trade products become available, other items may cost more. This is something we will have to monitor.


Are there any other universities that you know of that are implementing similar policies?

There are many campuses that sell Fair Trade products and promote the movement. I don’t know of any that are in the process of declaring themselves a Fair Trade University, but I expect that others will pursue this fairly soon.


What are some of the universities in the United Kingdom that have declared themselves Fair Trade?

Oxford Brookes University was the first in the U.K. to declare itself a Fair Trade University. Since then, around 60 universities have achieved that status, including the University of Birmingham and the University of Edinburgh.


How do you ensure that the products that you have purchased have not been produced in sweatshops?

UW Oshkosh is a member of the Fair Labor Association. The association inspects vendors to ensure that they do not subject their employees to sweatshop conditions. Whenever we choose vendors, we only select those who have been approved by the Fair Labor Association.

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by Barnhill, David L last modified Nov 01, 2011 03:31 PM
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