Did you know that Oxford is a Fairtrade University? This means we participate in a scheme that supports the people who produce the University’s food and drink in getting a fair cut of the proceeds. In recent years we have expanded the variety and quantity of Fairtrade products available at the University, alongside raising awareness of Fairtrade and conscious consumption as a whole.
The University also has a Fairtrade Working Group who work to raise awareness of Fairtrade, to get more Fairtrade products on sale throughout the University, and to arrange events celebrating and promoting Fairtrade. Ahead of Fairtrade Fortnight, starting on 22 February, we spoke to members of this group – Marie Bracey (Domestic Bursar at The Queen’s College), Ben Farmer (VP Charities and Community at Oxford SU) and Henry Grub (Researcher at the Department of Zoology) – to find out why Fairtrade is important to them, and what we can all do to get involved.
So what does it mean to support Fairtrade? Marie explains: ‘The Fairtrade Foundation works with farmers and workers in 73 countries, ensuring decent working conditions and stable and fair prices for the food they produce. Choosing the Fairtrade label on things we buy directly affects their lives; these farmers and producers benefit in multiple ways because the Fairtrade organisation checks that standards are met throughout the supply chain, including protection of workers’ rights and the environment, and tackles the injustice of conventional trade by requiring companies to pay sustainable prices. On top of that, the Fairtrade commitment means the farmers must belong to a co-operative; the Fairtrade Premium, which is an extra sum of money based on the volume of produce sold, then benefits the whole community through this co-operative. With the money from the Fairtrade Premium, the co-operative collectively determines how best to invest to improve their community most.’
Henry adds: ‘For Oxford to be one of the UK’s Fairtrade Universities means that we are going above and beyond to give our students and staff access to Fairtrade produce and to promote the Fairtrade message – locally this means things like Fairtrade tea and coffee in canteens and staff rooms. But our impact is global – it shows that Oxford is directly supporting the livelihoods of people in developing countries and working to combat inequality.’
This year, the Fairtrade Fortnight campaign is focusing on environmental sustainability and climate change, inviting us all to ‘Choose the world you want’, which sits right alongside actions to improve the rights of these workers. The Foundation has made great strides in empowering people through sustainable incomes and social justice, so it is important that it now helps farmers and workers in these communities, who are so vulnerable to the effects of climate change, to respond to environmental challenges.
As Ben explains: ‘From school strikes to David Attenborough, climate is firmly on the agenda and buying Fairtrade can be a key part of that. At Oxford SU we’ve been really pleased to work with the University on the new Sustainability Strategy, which students have engaged with in their thousands, to help shape the bold and ambitious targets we need the University to focus on. Of course there’s always more to do and at Oxford SU we remain committed to working with the collegiate University to support decisive action on the environmental crises we face. A key part of this is making supply chain switches, such as to Fairtrade suppliers, which will enable us to choose the world we want.’
‘ “Choose the world you want” speaks to the power we all have to make choices that support a better world that hopefully we all want to live in,’ adds Henry, whose research focuses on exploring how the University can make its food system and land management more sustainable, and protect biodiversity. ‘Fairtrade is not just about social equality – we are in the middle of climate and biodiversity crises, and we must farm more sustainably if we are to solve this. Fairtrade’s standards on limiting toxic chemical use and funding nature-based solutions are leading examples of how our food can be sourced more sustainably – and it’s up to us as consumers to drive demand, and to show that this is how we need to move forward.’
For Marie, supporting the Fairtrade mission also represents a chance to emerge from our everyday lives and local concerns, to think about the whole world and people living in places far away from us, and to acknowledge that we are all interconnected. ‘We don’t all need to do big things,’ she says, ‘but if we all try to do a little bit to help and take some others with us, it amounts to a lot.’
So how can you help? It’s simple – buy Fairtrade! Remember to check what Fairtrade-certified products are available to purchase, both at home and in your college or department. If there isn’t enough choice, speak to staff at the places where you usually eat and drink about providing Fairtrade products.
Spread the word and reinforce the idea that we all do our bit every time we buy a Fairtrade product. If staff and students try to keep that at the forefront of their minds throughout the year, then we can continue to increase our support for Fairtrade farmers and producers.
What’s on for Fairtrade Fortnight?