By Christian Hince | November 10, 2021
After UAlbany became one of 68 fair trade designated universities in the country in March, the school has added new sustainable and ethically-sourced products to campus stores and hosted events to maintain the status.
The school campaign’s efforts have primarily involved adding products with a fair trade certification to the campus bookstore in the form of items like chocolate, soap, and even more which are in 518 Market.
“We have Ben and Jerry’s ice cream which is a huge hit, we have Unreal Chocolate, we have Lily’s Chocolate, we have fair trade coffee,” said Joseph La Barbera, the president of SSTOP, or the Students Stopping the Trafficking of People, a campus club that plays a leading role in fair trade issues at UAlbany.
For the university to maintain the status of fair trade, which prioritizes businesses that promote child/slave-free labor, fair working conditions, transparency, equality, and eco-friendly conduct, the university must also hold at least two “events” related to the fair trade practice each semester, according to Dr. Mary Ellen Mallia, Director of the Office of Sustainability.
“It could be an actual event where people show up and you have information about fair trade,” Mallia said. “We took World Food Day and just posted four different posts about different aspects of fair trade on our social media.”
Mallia is part of the movement’s steering committee, a group comprising teachers, professional staff representatives, and students who lead the campus-based organization SSTOP.
The next step? Getting students to recognize these products better. “There’s actually a symbol on them that says fair trade designated, and we’re in the process of trying to actually get them to be labelled in the campus stores so it’s easy to pick out,” said La Barbera.
Additionally, one of the earliest and most-recognized results of SSTOP’s fair trade campaign was the addition of fair trade pepper and sugar to condiment tables in the Campus Center.
“Last minute I came up with the idea of saying, ‘Hey what if we considered the fact that the pepper and sugar is used by all the campus outlets on campus, and they’re put in one centralized location,” he said. “It looks like people are using the fair trade pepper and fair trade sugar, cause every day it gets refilled.”
La Barbera said they hope to add more items to 518 Market and the bookstore. However, supply-chain issues have gotten in the way of the school’s fair trade stock from looking the best it possibly can.
“We are seeing there are certain products that should be in 518 Market which are not in 518 Market, and that is simply because there are supply chain issues and 518 isn’t able to get the products in,” said La Barbera.
His ambitions for fair trade at UAlbany also tie into fighting the environmental impacts of fast fashion. A business model of cheaply and quickly producing clothing, fast fashion uses enormous amounts of water and is responsible for 20% of the world’s wastewater due to toxic textile dyes, along with leaving high quantities of non-degradable fabric clothes in landfills.
Barbera’s idea for this? Fair trade clothing. “We have mostly fair trade food, and if we could get fair trade apparel that would be amazing.” He doesn’t see this as likely though, considering the university’s brand agreements for apparel.
He also notes the uphill battle with fair trade’s limited popularity in the U.S. “If we were in Britain or Germany or one of the European Union countries, it would be a lot easier to find fair trade products, because fair trade products are kind of like the vegan of the United States.”
Consumers in E.U. countries spent around $3 billion on fair trade products in 2012, according to the European Parliamentary Research Service. This number far outsizes the $1.45 million spent by the U.S. in 2021, according to Statista.
Despite the country’s current position on fair trade, La Barbera said he is optimistic about the movement’s future on campus.
“In the United States it’s taking a little bit longer to catch onto the idea of fair trade,” he said. “However I think that within the next five years, we will be able to bring a lot more products into the Campus Center as fair trade is expanding.”