Fair Trade and Universities: The Case of Certified Fairtrade Universities in the UK

Academic contribution to agenda 2030

Fair Trade and Universities: The Case of Certified Fairtrade Universities in the UK

Rossella Baratta, Francesca Simeoni

The fair trade is a social movement that promotes a fair and sustainable development of the global economy as a possible option within the traditional trade system (Fisher, 2009). In addition, the fair trade encourages a sustainable trade system by aligning targets and objectives with the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs, 2015), with particular reference to full and decent employment, inclusive and sustainable economic growth (Goal 8), and responsible consumption and production patterns (Goal 12).

The fair trade operates as a system, with local national organizations, or FTOs (Fair Trade Organizations) acting as a bridge between producers from emerging countries and profit companies from developed countries (Moore, 2004). These “intermediate organizations” (Simeoni et al., 2020) basically sell to their own country the products they purchase through a fair value chain from the international context. There exist three major intermediate organizations operating at the worldwide level (WFTO, 2017): the US organization, the German organization and the Italian organization (Altromercato Impresa Sociale Soc. Coop). In the remaining countries, and in the UK in particular, several organizations with less impact at the single level operate in a more widespread and pervasive way (Anderson, 2015). Irrespectively of the organizational form, from the more centralized to the more fragmented ones, the aim of fair trade organizations is double: on the one hand, they support producers from the Global South through economic empowerment, while, on the other hand, they raise public awareness and engagement about fair and sustainable production and consumption patterns in the developed countries. The fair-trade system is widely acknowledged for its fundamental impact in the creation of a better society and for its full contribution to the concept of sustainable development.

Universities and higher education institutions are also acknowledged for their important role in the creation of a more sustainable society (Sallaku et al., 2019). As it has been highlighted by previous literature, universities can significantly influence wider society (Kaplowitz et al., 2009), they carry the moral responsibility to solve public challenges and to contribute to sustainability (Cortese, 1992), and, as proper part of their mission, they are in charge of fostering education in sustainable consumption patterns in order to educate people for a better future (Barth and Rieckmann, 2012; Meyer, 2016).

Taking into account the important contribution of both universities and the fair-trade system to the creation of a more sustainable society, it is reasonable to argue that synergic results and increased impacts could be achieved if these institutions cooperate and work together in the creation of public value.

In the UK, Fairtrade Foundation is the main promoter of the fair-trade system. Fairtrade Foundation belongs to the wider Fairtrade International, that was founded in the ‘90s, as a non-profit, multi-stakeholder association numerous partners all over the world (three regional producer networks and over 25 national Fairtrade organizations and marketing organizations). In countries where no major FTO exist, such as US, Germany or Italy, Fairtrade International national organizations are the proper reference point for fair trade. Hence, Fairtrade Foundation has undoubtedly the largest impact on the UK fair-trade system.

Fairtrade Foundation has adopted an interesting social relevant strategy aimed at increasing stakeholder and public engagement, with particular reference to higher education institutions. The Foundation, in fact, has developed a specific program providing the opportunity to become a Fairtrade Certified University, i.e. a University or College that has made a commitment to supporting and using as many Fairtrade products as possible and to raising awareness of Fairtrade with students and staff and of the benefits that it brings to workers and farmers in developing countries. Certified Fairtrade Universities are also allowed to use the Fairtrade logo, and by being part of this fair-trade network they can also benefit opportunities for knowledge transfer and best practices sharing. 

Previous literature has dealt with several relations or cooperation involving the fair-trade movement: relations with producers from the Global South, relations among producers themselves, relations with consumers in developed countries, relations of fair-trade organizations as intermediate organizations between southern producers and companies from developed countries (e.g. Nicholls and Opal, 2004; Stiglitz and Charlton, 2005; Raynolds et al., 2007; Bezencon and Blili, 2009; Simeoni et al., 2020 ). However, very few studies have investigated the relation of the fair trade with school system, and even less with universities and higher education institutions, despite the relevance of this kind of cooperation for the creation of public value for the overall society.

Therefore, the aim of the current research is to properly investigate the case of the Fairtrade Certified Universities, and in particular: to explore how the cooperation between Fairtrade Foundation and the Certified Universities works; to collect examples of good practices implemented by the Certified Universities; and to compare this successful cooperation model with the current Italian model, with specific reference to the engagement within the fair-trade system displayed by the University of Verona, in order to understand which positive aspects of the UK cooperation model could be possibly integrated within the Italian model.

The University of Verona, in fact, is also cooperating with the fair-trade system even if not with the Italian branch of Fairtrade International, but with Altromercato Impresa Sociale Soc. Coop., which is the leading FTO at the Italian level. Both the goals and the functioning of this cooperation differ from the UK model, the cooperation mainly rests at a scientific level and no proper Certification system for universities exists in Italy. However, it is reasonable to believe that some good practices from Fairtrade Certified Universities could usefully be replicated also in the Italian context, in order to make the cooperation between Altromercato and the University of Verona even more valuable. Good practices and positive externalities, moreover, are obviously not limited to the case of Verona, but could also be further enlarged to other Italian universities, making the cooperation more valuable both for stakeholders and the overall society.

#Fair Trade #Fairtrade University #Good practice #Stakeholders engagement #Sustainable education #Sustainable research