Students launch fair trade campaign on campus

MOVE, a USC organization that promotes social impact in business, launched a campaign to have USC join 140 other colleges and universities in being designated as a Fair Trade University.
(Photo from Facebook / USC MOVE)

MOVE, a campus organization dedicated to social impact in business, has launched a campaign to designate USC as a Fair Trade University, joining hundreds of campuses in a shift toward sustainability and fair labor practices.

Kylie Nealis, campus and community engagement manager of Fair Trade Campaigns, said the campaigns are a grassroots movement led by those in campuses and communities to enact change with the power of their dollar.

“[The Fair Trade designation criteria] are rooted in two main goals, which is to drive impact of Fair Trade products through purchasing, institutional sourcing and to educate,” Nealis said. “Our goal is to really help communities [and] municipalities, then on a college campus level, campuses through their dining and their institutional purchasing [to] transition to Fair Trade.”

The first step to attain a Fair Trade designation is to build a team of five or more members, at least one of whom is not a student, to pilot the campaign. Then the campaign committee coordinates with the college’s dining services to get two or more Fair Trade products into every dining venue. The university must also offer Fair Trade products at at least three campus offices and departments or campus run meetings and events.   

The fourth goal – education – consists of events and initiatives that engage the community to publicize Fair Trade and its mission. Media coverage, educational workshops and informational booths all fulfill this requirement.

Nealis said the fifth step is to pass a resolution signed by the school’s president representing its commitment to Fair Trade. Several schools, including USC, write and pass the resolution through their student government associations before sending it to university administration.

“While these campaigns are student-led and driven, we want to make sure that there’s buy-in from the student body and that the administration recognizes the work that’s been put in,” Nealis said. “[It’s] really important to recognize all that previous work.”

Currently, 142 U.S. colleges and universities have been designated Fair Trade or are working toward a designation. Among the 57 schools that have completed the designation is Arizona State University, one of the largest universities in the nation by total enrollment. Twenty-three California schools, including seven UC campuses, have launched or completed a Fair Trade campaign.

College campaigns typically last between three months and four years, according to Nealis, although the amount of time it takes to attain designation varies widely depending on the size of the school and the number of dining outlets it has.

At UCLA, which enrolls more than 45,000 students, the Fair Trade campaign spanned three years from launch to designation. 

However, MOVE hopes to complete the campaign at USC by the end of Spring 2020. To accomplish the designation on the accelerated timeline, MOVE Vice President of Professional Events Lorraine Ge said the organization will enlist students from outside the Marshall School of Business as well.

“I think that this is a very big school-wide opportunity — you’ll be basically pioneering USC’s sustainability movement toward Fair Trade,” Ge said. “As long as you’re interested in social good and as long as you’re going to be working in a business, you can join.”

Ge said that one of the major tenets of the Fair Trade campaign is using purchasing power to put personal values into practice.

“I think we are the generation that cares a lot,” Ge said. “And I think that because of that, it’s so important that USC students as a whole, like we do what we believe in, and we commit to that I think as consumers nowadays, we’re much more aware of what we’re buying and how supply chains are not always clean, and we’re more conscious — we actually shop more consciously as well.”

According to Nealis, there are hundreds of Fair Trade campuses worldwide. Los Angeles has launched its Fair Trade campaign and would become the largest Fair Trade city in the U.S.

MOVE President Sho Chawla said that while the campaign’s products will cost more than conventional items, he believes   the benefits of supporting Fair Trade outweigh the costs.

“When we approach [the University] about Fair Trade, I think it’s pretty easy to overcome that [price] barrier,” Chawla said. “Right now, I think it’s pretty reasonable for [USC] to support a Fair Trade initiative and show that they do care about the community and the globe.”