Talking fair trade at SFU

Students discuss fair trade and the future of coffee, chocolate, and other commodities available at SFU


SFU has been a fair trade campus since 2012. This year, SFU Ancillary Services and the Canadian Fair Trade Network (CFTN) is hoping to educate students to be involved in the fair trade movement.

In order to further engage students on the topic of fair trade, students who were sponsored by SFU and the CFTN to visit some of the fair trade farms in Costa Rica last year led a conversation to discuss the future of fair trade at SFU Harbour Centre on Monday, March 6.

As The Peak previously reported, coffee, tea, and chocolate are some of the fair trade items that can be found on campus. The Starbucks franchise is one of the partnerships with fair trade on campus which provides fair trade espresso and one fair trade filter coffee, however, Tim Hortons at SFU has yet to provide a fair trade option.

Director of ancillary services at SFU, Mark McLaughlin, expressed at the fair trade event that SFU is currently working to change that, in the hopes of Tim Hortons providing at least one fair trade item such as sugar or coffee.

Students Sarah Heim, Prodpran Wangcherdchuwong, and Joana Bettocchi, who visited Costa Rica last year, presented some of their findings and conversations they had with some of the fair trade farmers while travelling the country for six days.

Wangcherdchuwong explained that fair trade “is not charity, they’re not saying, ‘Oh, you’re so poor, let’s give you money,’ but they are actually exchanging with them on a fair and equitable basis.”

Bettocchi added that fairly traded projects all have different standards, “but the movement is adapted to respond and assess those needs to make sure that in fact everyone is being treated equally.”

Heim explained from her analysis of the fair trade system that the process is very “democratic,” where each farm is not owned by a corporate company, but rather “farmers who own their land together and decide on where they’re money should go. . . they know best how to keep their land renewable and sustainable.”

Throughout the Teck Gallery at Harbor Centre, images from the students’ trip to Costa Rica expressed some of the positive aspects of buying fair trade products. Many images showcased families who are affected by fair trade and portrayed examples of farmers giving back to their communities.

The night ended with a discussion of the ways in which SFU could improve its fair trade initiatives on campus.

“So now we’re back,” said Wangcherdchuwong. “The reality is, what is a fair trade campus? That is something that we need to ask ourselves: what we are and what we can be” at SFU.

“All of the the dining services locations offered by SFU serve fair trade coffee, tea, and one chocolate bar option, if they have chocolate in that venue,” said Torrye McKenzie, fair trade programs coordinator for the CFTN. She added that the network is currently drafting new requirements for fair trade campuses, including silver and gold statuses which would include providing fair trade fruit and sugar at the silver level. “Fair trade cotton T-shirts at the bookstore and really engaging franchises such as Tim Hortons [and] Starbucks” would be at the gold level.

McLaughlin added that “we also need to ensure that we educate and mentor” students about fair trade to further ensure that students are making conscious decisions on the food and beverages they purchase on campus.

Nationally, McKenzie added that a new fair trade ambassador program is currently being developed with the CFTN and Association of Fair Trade which would “train anybody on the ground who’s interested in getting involved with fair trade in any capacity. . . anybody at any point in their life who is interested in getting involved.”

At SFU, McKenzie explained that SFU is also looking at sending students on another fair trade origins trip to Ecuador “where students can visit co-operatives for coffee, cocoa, etc. So if you are interested in travelling and getting a more enriched experience while you travel, it is definitely something to get involved with.”

While the night reminded the audience of the importance of understanding where their food comes from as part of a global movement, it also addressed that hired labourers for those who own fair trade farms may not be paid quite as fairly and equitably as the owners themselves. Sean McHugh, founder and executive director of the CFTN stated, however, that “there are new standards in place as a result of this criticism. . . It’s very challenging, a lot of these places are very remote, it’s a work in progress.”

Despite this pitfall Heim stated, “You can’t look at fair trade through a vacuum. If you look at fair trade next to conventional agriculture and our ways of buying and consuming, fair trade is one of the better options we have.”