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Students revive CSR principles

Along with touch-screens, Bonsoy milk, and vintage clothes, corporate social responsibility (CSR) seems to be all the rage these days; with more and more company mission statements expressing some grandiose endeavours aimed at bettering our world, declaring their “determined” and “unwavering” commitment to ethical and environmentally sustainable operations. Since the early 2000s, most notably, the airline industry has devoted much energy into greening their operations and image, with the oil companies and banks close in tow; now the rest of the corporate world has followed suit. CSR has become well and truly developed into business’s latest catchph[r]ase.

Now it seems our educational institutions are jumping on board this solar-powered bandwagon. However, they are set apart from the rest - finally advocators, rather than opportunists, are on board.

Unlike the array of corporations that have taken a sudden interest in CSR (while their drills penetrate our earth deeper and deeper, and immense CO2 emissions continue to significantly contribute to the formation of greenhouse gases), the movement for universities to incorporate CSR into operations and campus life is one stemming from legitimate values, undeniable passion, and sincere intention.

Currently, there is a strong push for universities across Australia to become Fairtrade accredited. This will see universities introduce and eventually permanently stock Fairtrade products throughout campus cafes and eateries, in order to create a more ethical learning environment and give students the opportunity to become more socially responsible individuals who are aware of their consumption options.

Given the essence of CSR is being increasingly exploited by businesses that are attracted to its profit potential, with the goodwill and genuine life principles of CSR being morphed into a business equation: C + S + R = $$$, this push is ever so refreshing to hear about.

As the corporate world – once again – materializes and profits from what should not be a sellable idea, this student action serves as a much-needed reminder (or restoration of faith) that social responsibility should be an individual conviction that is collectively upheld, not a business ‘philosophy’ that is strategically implemented.

These students are not looking to rectify brand image: they do not see CSR as a marketing ploy that will help beautify company appearances - that is, apply a superficial mask to what still remains ugly business (cite, BP and their Helios logo: a sun-like image, complete with an oh-so eco-friendly colour scheme). Rather, those involved with these developments in our educational institutions are breaking through the greenwash with sincerity, a genuine drive to tackle poverty and help empower producers in developing countries. It is these people who deserve to have their initiatives acknowledged.

The Adelaide City Council officially became the first Fair Trade capital city in Australia on the May 7, 2010 citing the encouragement of more local business to make the swap to Fair Trade as one of their primary objectives – with educational institutions being of particular interest. Naturally, the University of Adelaide became a prime candidate.

So, it is with Adelaide my nation-wide update begins. I asked Bec Taylor, Member of SA Fair Trade, Social Justice Officer of the SRC at the University of Adelaide, and grandmaster egalitarian, a few questions to see just how the Fair Trade Association Australia and New Zealand (FTAANZ) and the University of Adelaide are working together to create a more ethical campus.

The Fairtrade girls from Adelaide University

Why is it important that the University of Adelaide becomes a Fairtrade University?

By becoming a Fair Trade accredited institution we show that we are serious about corporate social responsibility and this gives us a great opportunity to meet our sustainability policy standards. It will provide a higher standard of living for disadvantaged producers in developing countries, whilst building awareness among students of the inequalities in international trade - empowering people to make socially responsible choices. Together we can create a greater awareness of how international consumer power can make a real change, just by supporting the development of ethical and sustainable businesses on campus.

Basically - by making the swap to Fairtrade products for basic items we were going to purchase and provide anyway (i.e. coffee, tea, chocolate), we can increase the standard of living for the producers in third world countries- offering a fair price, an additional premium, environmental benefits and better income security. 

What changes will we have to make specifically to become a Fairtrade University?

Fairtrade certified products are made readily available at reasonable prices in as many on-campus retail outlets as possible; though outlets will only be expected to make Fairtrade available if they currently stock a non-Fairtrade product for which there is an accessible Fairtrade alternative. For starters, Fairtrade coffee, tea and sugar will be supplied as options in food outlets. Delicious Fairtrade chocolate would weave its way in as well - those who love Cadbury Dairy Milk (TM) are lucky because it has recently announced that it's Fairtrade. There are also a great variety of Fairtrade teas, all the normal ones - which will not change taste. 

One of the requirements is that we stock these supplies at a reasonable price compared to the non-Fairtrade options, and in order to make them as accessible as possible they should not be sold at increased prices. Basically, not much will change at all; except that we will be giving students and staff the opportunity to purchase their daily caffeine fix and provide others with a better standard of living in one go!

Jesse Marshall the President of the La Trobe University Guild said that he, along with "cafe owners and university financial officers of La Trobe were quite surprised at how easy the transition has been, and how small the cost difference really is". 

Have other universities, nationally or internationally, undertaken similar initiatives?

The UK have had 70 universities get Fair Trade accreditation since 2003; Australia has three Universities recognised for their commitment to Fair Trade, and have set their targets to get Fair Trade status: RMIT and La Trobe in Victoria, and Macquarie in NSW. Monash has a Fair Trade Steering Committee and Sydney are advocating for it, and I'm sure Flinders aren't far behind. Soon it will be the norm - we can't be left behind!

The line for Fairtrade drinks at Adelaide University

During May, the Fair Trade Association Australia and New Zealand (FTAANZ) held Fair Trade Fortnight, which encouraged people to swap their regular coffee, tea, sugar or chocolate for a Fairtrade alternative. What initiatives were held on campus?

We had a successful Fair Trade and Social Justice Expo on the Barr Smith Lawns that was held by the SRC. This brought together businesses and social justice groups that support Fairtrade in a fun and interactive setting - there was food, coffee, a band, and a tug-of-war game that highlighted the differences between the 'global south' and 'global north' in terms of trade – with hundreds of students signing in support of Fairtrade products on campus.

Other achievements included:

  • Mayo (main campus cafeteria) made Fairtrade coffee an option.
  • By the end of another month over 600 signatures had been collected in support of FT at Adelaide University, with many people keen to continue hearing about Fairtrade efforts and events happening at the uni.
  • We met with the Adelaide University Union (AUU) board and presented why we should become a Fairtrade university. They agreed to support it, ensuring that a few people from the AUU will participate in the Student Fair Trade Action Group.
  • Gained support from the Sustainability Group, "Ecoversity."
  • Gave a presentation to the Student Advisory Committee, receiving positive responses from them to further the process towards the uni becoming accredited.


  • The AUU is in support of a Fair Trade university. The AUU have pledged to continue to do what they can to make this happen.
  • The Vice Chancellor is in support of Fair Trade, and will be discussing officially becoming a Fair Trade University with other Heads of School and the University Council.
  • ONLY Fairtrade coffee is sold at Briefs, Mayo and Backstage Café. They are also stocking Cadbury Dairy Milk Fairtrade chocolate.
  • Recently introduced policy means cafe owners in the newly constructed buildings must have at least two Fairtrade products.
  • The Student Fair Trade Action Group has been formed. It plans to organize events and other initiatives throughout the semester to promote Fair Trade, such as stalls regularly selling Fairtrade goods and increasing awareness. In particular, it aims to get Fairtrade chocolate in vending machines, and a greater range of Fairtrade products in cafes and the Staff Club restaurant.
  • The University should soon have a Steering Committee that will put forward a proposal to FTAANZ about becoming a Fairtrade university, then a proper commitment to continue pursuing Fair Trade will be achieved.

If anyone is interested in joining Bec and becoming a part of this wonderful effort, or if you have any suggestions on how she can make campus life can be more ethical – shoot her an email, [email protected]

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