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The Dining Centre will soon be serving fair trade food.
Aly Gulamhusein/the Gauntlet

U of C to become fair trade campus

SU and university get on board with student-led initiative

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The University of Calgary is aiming to become Canada's second fair trade campus by May -- the result of an initiative led by the Engineers Without Borders U of C chapter, in cooperation with the Students' Union and university administration.

The designation, first awarded to the University of British Columbia by Fair Trade Canada last January, acknowledges institutions showing leadership in support of sustainable trading practices, according to the organization's website.

"I think there is kind of a culture of sustainability growing around the campus and fair trade fits into that picture," said EWB fair trade coordinator Kelly James.

In fall of 2010, James and fellow EWB coordinator Sara Walde began their Fair Trade endeavour. They wrote a formal proposal and started organizing awareness events around campus, namely "Fair Trade Fridays" in Science B, which provided free coffee and information on fair trade.

"We talk to about 60 students a week. Everybody is really keen to learn and we have a lot of repeat [attendees], which shows that people are really interested in it," said Walde. "People have been really receptive overall. I had a 45-minute conversation with one guy about fair trade."

When initially pursuing the status, negotiating with administration was difficult.

"The first year was really trying to map out who to talk to," said Walde.

They approached SU vice-president operations and finance Patrick Straw in October.

"We went to the Students' Union to get a bit of a stronger voice, and that definitely helped us out a lot," explained James.

Straw made the initiative a priority. He has a "Make U of C Fair Trade" memo on the back of his office door.

"The Students' Union could become fair trade without really doing a whole lot. We could make a few phone calls and that wouldn't really be an issue," said Straw. "The issue is getting the university on board, and our meetings so far have shown promise."

Regarding the university's role in the initiative, executive director residence and ancillary services Voula Cocolakis explained the university's larger challenge.

"The university is fully on board with this. It's just a matter because we have a much bigger operation than the Students' Union does."

The university is working collaboratively to make the campus fair trade.

"We've got the Students' Union working in their area and then from university food services we needed to make sure we sourced the right products," said Cocolakis. "We're very, very close. It's very exciting."

Cocolakis plans to meet with EWB and the SU later this week to finalize a timeline. The goal is to be a fair trade campus by the end of April.

The terms of reference of either the SU Sustainability Board or the Office of Sustainability will be changed to allow for fair trade involvement. This will satisfy the requirement of a regulatory committee.

Straw is working to make the U of C Canada's second campus to receive the designation.

"One of the reasons we're pushing for it is because we understand that if we become the second then we are seen as a leader," explained Straw. "That is something that is very important to us and very much in our view."

Other universities are reportedly close to applying for the status as well, notably Simon Fraser University.

According to the Fair Trade Canada website, the status is not an outright certification, as only products can be certified, but is instead a campus-wide commitment to more sustainable and ethical trade.

To be eligible, the SU and university businesses must comply with regulations regarding the availability of products, visibility of fair trade options and the creation of a monitoring committee.

SU businesses include the Den, Stör, the Black Lounge and Conference and Events. University-administered businesses include the Bookstore and the Residence Dining Centre.

The status does not apply to independently run businesses such as Tim Hortons and Bake Chef.

The two EWB fair trade coordinators stress that the recent progress has been a joint effort.

"We've had a lot of support. We wouldn't have gotten anywhere without the SU, administration and the Sustainability Office backing us," added Walde.

Both EWB coordinators are adamant that the student role is indispensible in making the U of C fair trade certified, and that if the administration sees demand for fair trade products, they will be increasingly open to continuing the initiative.

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