SFU named Canada’s first Fairtrade Gold Campus

Photo Courtesy of Simon Fraser University

Written by: Karissa Ketter, News Writer

SFU has been recognized by Fairtrade Canada and the Canadian Fair Trade Network as a Fairtrade Gold Campus. Fairtrade describes a partnership between consumers and farmers in the southern hemisphere that is based on “dialogue, transparency and respect.” The Peak interviewed Chief Commercial Services Officer Mark McLaughlin to discuss the achievement.  

McLaughlin explained that “Fairtrade is really about helping the farmers [and] their families in developing countries.” Goods are purchased mainly from smallholder or family farms at a fair price that provides “a decent wage and living conditions.” The Canadian Fair Trade Network notes that companies are required to pay producers and farmers a price that guarantees sustainable production. 

When companies purchase Fairtrade, McLaughlin also noted that they buy into a Fairtrade premium. This money is invested back into communities in the form of roads, transportation, hospitals, and schools. Beyond that, there is “regulation use against child labour [and] against use of pesticides.”

Fairtrade focuses on “empowering [farmers] and putting them more in control of their welfare.” This also includes gender equality policies which aim to recognize women in Fairtrade farming as much as men.

To achieve Gold Status, currently the highest level in the program, SFU started an active Fairtrade Ambassador program for students, attended annual international conferences, and supplied numerous Fairtrade products available for purchase on campus. The main challenge in the process of becoming Gold Status is product availability, according to McLaughlin. For instance, while bananas on campus are supplied by Discovery Organics, they perish quickly. 

SFU students can find Fairtrade coffee, tea, bananas, avocados, and chocolate in the Dining Hall. The SFU Bookstore also sells an array of Fairtrade cotton t-shirts, snacks, and accessories — Fairtrade roses are available during in-person convocation. 

On campus, Starbucks Coffee serves 90–95% Fairtrade coffee including all Fairtrade espresso, according to McLaughlin. In 2013, Starbucks agreed to source Fairtrade coffee beans for the campus branch. McLaughlin noted that since then, Starbucks made Fairtrade coffee available on campuses all across the country. Fairtrade coffee is also available at Mackenzie Café and Renaissance Coffee. 

McLaughlin expressed his disappointment with Tim Hortons. He noted his attempt to contact them in requesting Fairtrade coffee options but they have “refused to provide Fairtrade coffee to Canadian campuses” and stated that “they should be embarrassed.” In a previous interview with The Peak, McLaughlin noted that the coffee chain states that their coffee is ethically-sourced, however, they follow their own standard. 

McLaughlin noted that as students become “more aware of the challenges farmers face” in the southern hemisphere, they want to support them. He is also hoping that SFU will “be the first campus to pilot Tim Horton’s Fairtrade coffee [and that they] just have to keep working at it.”

Out of the Fairtrade movement, which originally began as a grassroots group of student lobbying administrators, the Fairtrade Ambassador program was created. It started three years ago and aims to spread awareness on campus and in the community as well as organizing trips to visit farmers and their families. 

Ambassadors “meet with the farmers to learn first hand the challenges that farmers face and the impacts of Fairtrade.” Fair Trade Canada first launched the campus movement eight years ago. According to McLaughlin, SFU was one of the first adopters of the program, but there are currently 44 Canadian education campuses participating. 

“There’s always more to do, there’s always more that needs to be done for farmers and their families,” McLaughlin said. He’s hoping that Fairtrade Canada “will come up with an even higher bar: Fairtrade platinum.”