SFU, the SDGs, and Fairtrade

March 03, 2021

“To world peace.”

    The above phrase is not an uncommon toast to hear: I most recently heard it while rewatching Groundhog Day as Bill Murray tried to woo the lovely Andie MacDowell. (Great movie to watch during repetitive lockdown-life. Ever feel like you’re living the same day over and over and over again?)

    As noble as Bill Murray’s toast may be, raising one’s glass as a pledge to world peace doesn’t do a whole lot for its prospects, and sometimes the phrase is even made in jest. It is no mystery that there are many complex causes for war, like for a nation to secure resources, or civil unrest, making world peace a seemingly impossible feat. But what if there was a plan that could actually solve major sources of conflict? What if there was a plan that could ensure every person had their needs met, and could live in an equitable society?

    It might be hard to imagine, but the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to do just that. The Agenda, adopted in 2015, outlines 17 major Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which address specific targets. These SDGs range from poverty, community development, to environmental protection and beyond, in what the UN has called a “blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” It is important to note that the Agenda outlines goals, rather than a clear-cut instruction manual for the most efficient way of reaching global sustainability. Of course, how could it be more? Do a little thinking about the issue of poverty, for example, and you’ll also need to consider education systems, inclusive employment, environmental racism, and other root causes. Because of the interconnected complexities of world problems, a central component to the Agenda is the connectivity between the SDGs. Without multidisciplinary thinking and support from a broad set of actors targeting many goals, the Agenda won’t see much success.

    In regards to this style of approach, universities play a significant role in setting it all up. For example, as an institutional space, Simon Fraser University is tasked with preparing the young generations with the diverse skill sets and values needed to tackle rising social, economic, and environmental tensions. At its core, Simon Fraser University has an obligation to foster innovative ways of thinking about sustainability within its students.

The SFU 2025 Sustainability Plan provides the foundation for SFU's sustainability efforts from 2020 to 2025. Given a global climate crisis, the Plan mobilizes the entire institution to embed climate action throughout its operations, research, academics and community engagement. (Source: www.sfu.ca/sustainability)

    SFU’s histories of political activism and contributions to the natural and social sciences showcase its commitment to this undertaking. Currently, SFU proclaims a diverse array of sustainability commitments, policies, pedagogies, and projects that inform and inspire the campus community, including the 20-Year Sustainability Vision, the Zero Waste Initiative, and the on-going development of Living Labs, just to name a few (find more about sustainability projects, courses, and resources at SFU here). A strong example of SFU’s work towards the SDGs, of course, is its national leadership as an institution supporting Fairtrade.

    SFU has championed Fairtrade for a decade now, years after students pushed SFU authorities to engage with the fair trade movement in 2011. SFU is the reason Starbucks offers Fairtrade certified espresso at campuses across Canada, and it is the country’s only designated Fair Trade Gold Campus. What this looks like on the ground is a ubiquitous availability of Fairtrade products on campus, a steering committee to further improve Fairtrade product procurement and community knowledgeability, and a passionate student group that advocates for the movement through various community outreach events and projects. So, what is it about Fairtrade that is so important to SFU?

    Fairtrade’s mission is to build “a model of trade that ensures better prices, decent working conditions, no child labour, sound environmental practices, and strong business relationships” that focuses on attaining a happy, healthy life for producers in the global South. Even though Fairtrade’s mission is to reduce poverty through methods of better trade, there is an explicit awareness that it cannot succeed without targeting an array of issues. This holistic approach to interconnected problems overlaps heavily with the perspective in the UN’s Agenda for Sustainable Development, and is the reason why SFU is such a strong proponent of Fairtrade. When we look at Fairtrade, we can see how it specifically targets multiple SDGs:

The Fairtrade Premium is an additional sum of money that goes into a communal fund for workers and farmers to use to improve their social, economic and environmental conditions. Producers determine what is most important to them; whether this is education or health care for their children, improving their business, or building vital infrastructure such as roads and bridges for their community. (Source: www.fairtrade.ca)

1: No Poverty.
The best way out of poverty, naturally, is to pay farmers a decent income, and make sure workers get a fair wage. The Fairtrade minimum price is a safety net for when prices crash, helping producers make ends meet. In addition, communities can decide for themselves how they invest Fairtrade Premiums, which can target direct community needs.

2: Zero Hunger. 
Farmers help to feed the world, but only if they get a decent income to invest in their farms and their futures. Fairtrade supports producers to make sure they don’t have to give up their farm in search of better-paying work.

5: Gender Equality. 
The Fairtrade standards prohibit discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual violence. Fairtrade also funds and supports projects such as gender leadership schools, where they empower women to become entrepreneurs and managers. In some countries, it’s not accepted for women to own land or handle money. These kinds of programs help educate women and offer pre-financing and loans for women to buy their own land with the end-goal of creating confident leaders in their community.

8: Decent Work and Economic Growth. 
Even today, millions of farmers and labourers work long hours in hazardous conditions. Things like child labour and forced labour are, unfortunately, quite common. Fairtrade Standards prohibit these abuses, and promote health, safety, and workers rights instead.

Small-scale farmers are already bearing the brunt of a changing climate, even though they can have a low carbon footprint. (Source: www.fairtrade.ca)

12: Responsible Consumption and Production.
Fairtrade producers, distributors, and businesses all comply with tough social, economic, and environmental standards throughout the supply chain.

13: Climate Action. 
The Fairtrade Standards include requirements for environmentally sound agricultural practices. The focus areas are: minimized and safe use of agrochemicals, proper and safe management of waste, maintenance of soil fertility and water resources, and no use of genetically modified organisms. Fairtrade also helps increase resilience to diseases, extreme weather, and other climate-driven impacts by working with producer communities to encourage tree planting, improvements to irrigation and waste management, diversification of crops, and pursuit of a varied source of income.

Producers have 50 percent of the vote at the Fairtrade General Assembly, and they are always consulted during the process for establishing new standards, prices, and policies. (Source: www.fairtrade.ca)

16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.
Fairtrade is the only global standard that is 50% owned and run by farmers and workers. For example, in 2019 more than 500 producer groups from 70 countries recently had their say as part of an extensive review, resulting in implementation of a new, updated version of the standards.

17: Partnerships for the Goals. 
Fairtrade brings together farmers, workers, consumers, trade unions, businesses, governments, and campaigners to deliver real impact and sustainable economic growth through a variety of methods.

    When SFU supports Fairtrade, the university is doing more than just helping someone get fairer pay for their work. With it, the campus community is actively fighting hunger, encouraging responsible, just, and healthy development for communities across the globe, and teaching climate resilience practices—all through a framework that relies on transparent, multi-stakeholder engagements. Ultimately, this is just one method of advancing the SDGs, but these kinds of big-picture movements are exactly what SFU should continue supporting institutionally. By further bolstering holistic values within our university’s frameworks, we can continue adding to the growing international momentum which seeks to create a sustainable global community.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has identified that overcoming gender inequalities can reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 150 million. Fairtrade empowers women to overcome discrimination, participate equally in agriculture, and earn more income. (Source: www.fairtrade.ca)