A recent survey conducted by students at the Sauder School of Business focusing on the UBC community’s relationship with Fair Trade, and what knowledge exists around Fair Trade practice, found that of those surveyed, over 25 per cent do not understand the concept and 46 per cent never see any products available on campus.* UBC is addressing this education gap by holding its first Fair Trade Week (March 5 – 9) to raise awareness of what Fair Trade is, what UBC’s role is and highlight what products are available on campus.

UBC is asking the community to support the week’s engaging activities and events which include: 

  • flash mob dance organized by Common Energy UBC and goBeyond
  • daily free Fair Trade coffee hours at participating Food Services locations
  • campus-wide scavenger hunts
  • a trade fair at the UBC Bookstore on March 7, 11:30am – 2:00pm, with Fair Trade Vancouver, vendors and samples,  including a lunch and learn presentation  from Engineers Without Borders
  • a Fair Trade Fun Run on March 8 at 12:45pm

Quinn Runkle, a student in geography and political science and the director of Common Energy UBC says, “Our part in the inaugural Fair Trade week is to make the message memorable and organize a visually impactful initiative in which the whole UBC community can participate. With this in mind, we are organizing a Fair Trade flash mob to be filmed and then broadcast throughout the week across campus. Put March 1st in your calendars for the training session at 12pm in Vanier and March 5th for the actual flash mob at 12pm in the SUB basement room beside the deli. Be there and be fair!”

In 2011, UBC was designated Canada's first ‘Fair Trade campus’ for its efforts in supporting Fair Trade products. Fair Trade Canada has called UBC “an example to all universities and the epitome of Canadian fairness and respect for the farmers who produce these products”. As a result of pressure from elected members of the Student Union, the university began adopting Fair Trade coffee in their Student Services and Student Union eateries as early as 2002. In the last year, the school has purchased nearly 1.5 million cups of coffee, 429,000 tea bags, 2,300 chocolate bars and 1,885kg of bananas, all Fair Trade certified.

Kaan Williams, one of the drivers of Fair Trade at UBC and the Fair Trade liaison from the UBC chapter of Engineers Without Borders, explains what UBC had to do to become a Fair Trade campus, “Fair Trade designation really focuses on the availability of product. All coffee served, three teas anywhere tea is served, and one chocolate anywhere chocolate is available, have to be Fairtrade certified. At the time we sought to apply to be recognized as a Fair Trade campus, the potential gaps were in the tea and chocolate. Victoria Wakefield, purchasing manager for UBC Food Services, which operates separately from AMS, was responsible for bringing these in, as well as Fair Trade fruit, iced tea, sugar, doughnuts and hot chocolate. With those pieces of the puzzle, we were ready to go!”

He continues, “In addition to product availability, the UBC campus has to commit to improving awareness and visibility of the issue, as well as having a Fair Trade campus committee struck by Andrew Parr, managing director, Student Housing and Hospitality Services, and designated by the UBC President, Stephen Toope.”

Rebecca Irani, marketing and communications manager, UBC Bookstores, says, “While food and drink do make up a large number of Fair Trade products on campus, we also want the community to understand that other products including clothing and accessories are increasing. The issue is that their designation can be more difficult to achieve. For example, all the clothing we sell in our Bookstores is ‘No Sweat’ (since 2004), which means that the suppliers adhere to fair labour policies, but we cannot actually call it Fair Trade”.

Not only does the team want to raise awareness of the wide range of products, but in holding the first Fair Trade week, UBC wants to extend the message nationally, well beyond our campus. Kaan Williams has a long term goal for other universities in Canada to seek Fair Trade campus designation, and he encourages people not to give up, “Persist, continue the fight and you can be successful.”

The week is being organized through cross-campus partnerships including the AMS, Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS), SEEDS (Social Ecological Economic Development Studies), the UBC Bookstores, Engineers Without Borders and students from the Faculty of Land and Food Systems,Common Energy UBC and goBeyond.

*About the Sauder School of Business survey

An online survey was conducted in December, 2012 with 241 respondents on the Vancouver campus. 84 per cent of respondents were students, 14 per cent were staff and less than 2 per cent were faculty/alumni/other.  While 68 per cent of first year students are familiar with the Fair Trade concept, this surprisingly drops to 48 per cent for those who have been here for two years which may mean that their exposure is far less on campus to the concept and the products.

The detailed survey is available for review.