The global pandemic makes Fair Trade Week even more important

The global pandemic makes Fair Trade Week even more important

York University is celebrating Fair Trade Campus Week and encouraging students, faculty and alumni to support sustainability and a fair and equitable economic system around the world, particularly in COVID-19 times.

“The pandemic has disrupted so many aspects of our lives, but it has also brought more attention to things we didn’t necessarily think about before, like toilet paper and flour shortages, or the seasonal workers that pick our fruits and vegetables,” says John Simoulidis, treasurer of the Green Campus Cooperative. “People are starting to ask questions about where our food and clothing comes from, and the working conditions of laborers."

A quality-control worker cradles a handful of ultra-premium coffee beans at the CoopeAgri factory in San Isidro, Costa Rica.

Fair Trade Campus Week 2020, held October 23-28 on campuses across the country, draws attention to the growing instability in the global economy. This year, there are a series of digital speakers  and events across campus. Agriculture is one central theme for 2020. Many youth in the Global South are leaving agriculture because of climate catastrophes, and little hope in making a decent living for their family or community. FairTrade works with suppliers in the South and businesses in the North – like York University – to ensure supply chains are fair and sustainable and make farming a viable option.

York’s Green Campus Cooperative, founded in 2011 by students and faculty members, supports fair trade practices and implements practical ways to get students involved in sustainability. “We provide education and experience for our students,” says Simoulidis, who teaches in the Business and Society and Interdisciplinary Social Science program. “We help promote the livelihoods of producers and garment workers in developing countries by giving them a way to sell their products in the Canadian market; most importantly, we promote cooperation, sustainability and trade justice.”

According to FairTrade Canada, there are 1,411 Fair Trade Certified organizations in 73 countries around the world, and 23 percent of the workers are women. Green Campus Co-Operative works with two suppliers in India to produce cotton T-shirts, one of which is Assisi Garments a social purpose enterprise run by Franciscan Nuns in Tamil Nadu, who provide training and education for disabled and disadvantaged women. Assisi Garments uses the proceeds from the sales of their clothing to fund community projects in schools, old age homes and hospitals. Individual t-shirts, and bulk order t-shirts, are available.

Tom Watt, Director of Food Services at York University, said that though the pandemic has changed the way York will celebrate Fair Trade Campus week, there will be many events and educational opportunities to learn about York’s commitment to sustainability and global justice.

Watt believes this is a moment in time when we have the potential to recognize our role in the advancement of lasting change. “Canadians are good stewards of humanity, and we have a responsibility to better the working conditions of marginalized producers and workers.  There is great inequity in international trade, and we need to make efforts to correct this injustice,” he says. “Supporting hard working folks who farm and produce our goods secures us a much more sustainable development strategy for the future.”

Watt and Simoulidis both hope that one day soon York University will only serve Fairtrade coffee across campus, and this week might provide momentum towards York University being declared a Fair Trade campus “Students and faculty have a global perspective and a commitment to sustainability, fairness and economic growth in more challenged regions of the world,” says Simoulidis “York students and faculty improve the lives of producers, and raise awareness for social justice and inequality. It reminds us all that we are global citizens.”