Living Our Values: Colleges Promote Fair Trade

As institutions inspired by faith, Catholic colleges and universities live their values in many ways, including through academic pursuits, business decisions, and student activities. One way Catholic colleges and universities reflect their mission to care for the poor and vulnerable throughout the world by protecting the rights of workers, upholding ethical economic practices and supporting sustainable environmental practices is through fair trade.

Fair trade is a designation placed on products to ensure that producers are paid a fair price for what they create by examining factors like price, labor conditions, sustainability, and community development. Carroll College and St. Norbert College are two examples of Catholic institutions that have successfully implemented different strategies to raise awareness for fair trade products and practices in creative ways.

Carroll College has promoted fair trade through academic courses, student life, and the Hunthausen Center for Peace and Justice. Fair trade principles and practices were introduced in the class “Theological Foundations,” part of Carroll’s core curriculum, as a case study during a unit on Catholic Social Teaching. Another course, “Market Research,” also examined the issue of fair trade through a research project on fair trade awareness in the community and on campus. Using research from this project, students from the Enactus student club, which focuses on developing business skills, designed a pocket-sized brochure on fair trade and Catholic Social Teaching, which also listed businesses in Helena selling fair trade products. More than 4,000 copies of the brochure were distributed across the Carroll and Helena communities. The student life department, with the Hunthausen Center, also sponsored a public fair trade market in the campus center where fair trade products were made available for purchase. Additionally, three “Fair Trade Friday” events featuring free samples of fair trade products and information on fair trade practices were held in the campus center, promoting greater awareness of the issue. These fair trade–focused projects were funded through the Global Solidarity Grant program, a collaborative program of ACCU and Catholic Relief Services that awards funding to Catholic colleges and universities to increase awareness of global injustice and expand student involvement in bringing about change. After signing a fair trade resolution, Carroll College became a Fair Trade certified university in 2016, the first university in Montana to be certified as such.

Another Global Solidarity Grant recipient, St. Norbert College, incorporated art into the discussion of fair trade. On exhibition in the Baer Gallery of the Bush Art Center was photographer Lisa Kristine’s work “Enslaved: A Visual Story of Modern Day Slavery.” St. Norbert hosted a reception with Catholic Relief Services called “Shine a Light” that used the powerful images on display to present a testimony of the need for change in the area of fair and ethical trade. Featured speaker Caroline Brennan, Senior Communications Officer at Catholic Relief Services, discussed the effects of fair trade programs around the world and how attendees could become involved. She also shared her own story and photographs as a member of the CRS emergency response team to an audience of faculty, students, and members of the local community. At the end of the reception, hundreds of postcards in support of the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act were signed by visitors to the exhibit and reception attendees and given to representatives of Catholic Relief Services to send to Congressional representatives.

St. Norbert College students also run a fair trade business called Discoveries International. Run by international business students, Discoveries International sells fair trade items, such as jewelry, coffee, and tea, donating the profits to charities chosen by the group. For the 2016-2017 academic year, Discoveries International is donating to Feed My Starving Children, The Zambia Project, and Doctors without Borders. This business incorporates support for ethical markets with the teaching of management skills to students who are going to be involved in the international market.

Bring Fair Trade to Your Campus

Colleges and universities can connect with Catholic Relief Services Ethical Trade to help promote fair trade principles on their campus. CRS Ethical Trade provides academic resources that include various modules related specifically to incorporating fair trade and labor issues in the curriculum. In addition, they provide campus engagement materials, ranging from prayers to event ideas, that can help raise awareness on the issue of fair labor practices in the campus community. From their experience working with many campuses on promoting fair trade, CRS Ethical Trade tells success stories of Catholic colleges and universities that used the CRS Student Ambassador program to incorporate educational and faith formation resources into campus life while faculty offer academic modules in courses. In addition to these online resources, CRS staff members are available to present on ethical trade and its importance to the campus community.

Many Catholic universities also work with Fair Trade Campaigns to become a fair trade–certified university through their multi-step process. To start, a campus creates a team to support fair trade, who then reaches out to campus outlets to ensure a minimum of two fair trade products are available in campus-owned and -operated venues. The team works to grow the movement, using fair trade products at university meetings, events, and in university offices, and planning fair trade educational events or celebratory activities. The final step to certification is for the college or university to develop and pass a fair trade resolution. Fair Trade Campaigns has a toolkit available for ideas on how to meet these goals. As of February 2017, 21 Catholic colleges and universities are certified as fair trade institutions. ACCU provides more information on how to become a fair trade university, why Catholic institutions value fair trade, and additional creative ways to incorporate fair trade on campus on its Fair Trade webpage, where visitors can also download the Fair Trade and Catholic Higher Education brochure.

A rising number of Catholic colleges and universities are using their purchasing power as a way of expressing their Catholic mission by supporting the rights of workers to a fair wage and safe working conditions through fair trade items. Carroll College and St. Norbert College are engaging the issue of justice for workers, global solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, and care for creation through a variety of programs and awareness campaigns. By bringing together students through business practices, academic courses, and cultural events, these colleges are showing how fair trade practices in the daily workings of an institution can make a global impact.

Camilla MacKenzie is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

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