Last month, the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) became the first fair trade campus in Canada to earn the Silver Fair Trade Campus designation from Fairtrade Canada for its social, economic, and environmental sustainability initiatives.

Fairtrade Canada is a non-profit organization that supports local farmers and their food production. The organization strives to provide farmers with better prices and working conditions by meeting specific social, economic and environmental standards.

Back in 2016, UTM received a bronze designation from Fairtrade Canada. Since then, the campus has continued to grow and improve its fair-trade options and resources on campus.

Currently, numerous fair trade options are available to students, staff, and faculty on campus. Fairtrade coffee, tea, and chocolate are sold at several locations on campus including the Food Court at the William G. Davis Building, the North Side Bistro at Deerfield Hall, and the Fair Trade café at Maanjiwe Nendamowinan.

Fair trade ingredients are also used daily in the kitchen and are offered at catered events.

Andrea De Vito, assistant director of the Hospitality & Retail Services (H&RS) department at UTM, said the silver designation is a “pillar” to UTM’s H&RS sustainability program which promotes the concept of sustainable practice and connects it with education.

“Being the first university in Canada to achieve a Fair Trade Campus Silver Designation shows UTM’s ongoing commitment to expand the positive impact of fair trade on our campus,” said De Vito.

“Committing to fair trade goes beyond our campus borders […] even our country’s borders,” continued De Vito. “By expanding our commitment to Fair Trade, we show support to the growers and suppliers (and their communities) of many products like coffee, bananas, sugar, and spices that we consume daily by continually investing to improve their quality of life and to ensure the sustainability of their livelihood.”      

To celebrate UTM’s designation, a fair trade market was held on January 28 from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Maanjiwe Nendamowinan (MN). The market included several certified fair trade vendors such as Doi Chang, a coffee company.

John McGowan, the territory manager for Canterbury Coffee, a regional coffee company that sells Doi Chang products, has supported Doi Chang since the beginning.

“At the beginning, there were no paved roads up to the village [of Doi Chang]. Since then, a school has been built for the children all over the mountains [and] a coffee academy. The villages have come an awful long way since I’ve been with Doi Chang,” said McGowan.

McGowan believes campuses that implement fair trade into their food outlet system make a big change in the world.

“I mean it all adds up. It’s going to help sustain these villages, [and] keep them growing for years to come,” continued McGowan. “The more [campuses] that are doing it, the better it will be [for] the world.”

Green Campus Co-operative (GCC), an apparel co-op business started by a York University professor, was also one of the vendors at the fair trade market last Tuesday.

Darryl Reed, a professor who currently teaches the business and society program at York University, founded GCC in 2011. GCC is a non-profit, co-operative organization run by students and faculty at York University.

The mission of the organization, according to Reed, is “to get more sustainable products on campus, to support supply chains like farmers, and to teach students how to do sustainable business through an experiential educational program.”

GCC’s current project is Green Campus Cotton, a fair trade organic cotton garment company that makes spirit wear like t-shirts and polo shirts for universities, colleges, and other similar organizations.

Reed believes that students play a major role in sustainable initiatives like fair trade because campuses are where they develop their consumer habits. 

Throughout the day, UTM students, staff, and faculty visited the market at the MN building. Samples of fair trade coffee were available, along with organic granola bars and banana bread.

Christina Kokkinis, a second-year student majoring in psychology and criminology, said that she tries to buy “more locally sourced” goods whenever she can because it encourages equality among workers.

“I think the whole purpose of fair trade is paying individuals more money for their exports because they are taking so much time to produce a great product. So, for them to not get the money towards that, it’s unfair,” said Kokkinis. 

Capri Contreras De Blasis, another second-year student majoring in psychology and criminology and minoring in women and gender studies, prefers local foods over the popular fast food chains on campus that students often go to like Starbucks and Thai Express.

“[Food] tastes so much better when it’s from a mom-and-pop store,” said De Blasis. 

De Blasis also stressed the idea of “giving back,” which fair trade promotes.

“I think it is important because you are putting it back into the community. These are actual people and you are giving workersa greater amount of money [for their work],” said De Blasis.

Staff at UTM also appreciate the growth of fair trade on campus.

Andrea Bourgeois, a sous-chef at North Side Bistro, believes fair trade will make the same impact as the water bottle stations installed across the university that have encouraged students to bring their own bottles to campus.

She thinks that fair trade is “good for the environment” and will continue to support environmentally friendly initiatives like fair trade on campus.

“Anything that is environmentally friendly, I’m for it,” said Bourgeois.

According to De Vito, green initiatives like fair trade on campus will continue to grow in the upcoming future.

“Hospitality & Retail Services will continue to expand our sustainability efforts because the positive impacts on our society and our planet far outweigh the associated financial costs,” said De Vito, “and because it’s the right thing to do.”

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