Fair trade fits ethical billing

November 19, 2004

Oxford Brookes University officially became the world's first fair-trade university last October after a campaign by academics and postgraduates. Next week, members of the university are telling others how to do the same in a conference on achieving fair-trade status.

Several other universities have followed Oxford Brookes' example, including Birmingham and Edinburgh, while others, such as Leeds, have set in motion the accreditation process.

Joanna Brown, a campaigner at Leeds, describes fair trade as being concerned with "tackling the underlying roots of third-world poverty".

Buying and selling products priced to ensure farmers are paid a living wage with money invested back into local farming is a practical way of addressing inequality, she adds.

Given the ethical basis of the fair-trade movement, universities have become ideal targets for generating support. "As large institutions, the potential volumes of fair-trade products to be consumed are enormous," says Harriet Lamb, director of the Fairtrade Foundation.

The foundation awards fair-trade status when five minimum criteria are met, including ensuring that fair-trade foods are on sale in all campus shops and that they are used in cafes, restaurants and bars.

At Wolverhampton University, Susan Warrender, head of catering, launched her institution's interest in fair-trade products with a week of events including a fair-trade breakfast. During the week, prices of fair-trade items were reduced but Warrender says sales have not dropped subsequently, with coffee and tea being the main sellers.

It can take a while to achieve fair-trade status. Oxford Brookes took two years. Louisa Lyne, one of the initial campaigners, says there are marketable benefits to running ethical associations - being a fair-trade university fits with their commitment to the international community. "It's a good selling point for the university and it goes with their ethos."

Details: http:///www.fairtrade.org.uk/

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