UW–Madison designated as a Fair Trade University

On October 7, 2021, UW–Madison was designated as a Fair Trade University, making it just the second school in the Big Ten to attain this status, as well as the third within the UW System. The Fair Trade designation is administered by Fair Trade Campaigns (FTC), a grassroots organization that began in the U.K. by recognizing towns for implementing Fair Trade products in their venues and operational policies. Since its founding in the early 2000s, FTC has evolved into an international movement that includes cities, K-12 schools, congregations, and universities.

UW–Madison’s Fair Trade journey

In early 2020, the UW–Madison Office of Sustainability (OS) and Labor Codes and Licensing Advisory Committee (LCLAC) teamed up to work toward Fair Trade designation for campus. Over the past 18 months, the committee has cataloged Fair Trade products at every campus venue with Unions and dining staff; reviewed menus and events with catering staff; analyzed curricula with faculty from a variety of departments; and passed resolutions through the Associated Students of Madison (ASM), the Academic Staff Assembly, and the Faculty Senate.

But what does “Fair Trade” mean for a higher education institution? The term has become ubiquitous in recent years, conjuring images of happy coffee farmers or local food cooperatives. For an item like coffee or chocolate, an organization such as Fair Trade USA or Fair Trade International must certify the product. To achieve certification, that chocolate or coffee company must prove that its products meet certain environmental, social, and economic criteria, particularly in production and harvesting.

In this sense, Fair Trade focuses on people. Certification ensures that those involved in the manufacture of a product are paid a fair wage, work under safe and healthy conditions, and enjoy ecosystems and communities that are not degraded by production processes. 

A university, meanwhile, cannot be Fair Trade certified like a product. Rather, it can be designated a Fair Trade University for upholding the ethic of Fair Trade. For a university to achieve Fair Trade designation from FTC, it must meet five criteria:

  1. Establish a working group that oversees the designation process
  2. Identify a minimum number of Fair Trade products for sale at every campus venue
  3. Identify a minimum number of offices or catering services using Fair Trade products
  4. Commit to Fair Trade education by incorporating Fair Trade concepts into the curriculum
  5. Show support for designation by passing a resolution through one or more shared governance bodies

UW–Madison’s campaign page showcases how the university is fulfilling each of these steps.

“Fair Trade underscores the importance of fair labor practices, public health, and environmental justice—all central concepts to the mission of UW–Madison and to sustainability,” said Dr. Missy Nergard, Director of Sustainability at UW–Madison. “Achieving Fair Trade designation is also a collaborative enterprise, and I would like to applaud LCLAC and University Marketing for their essential roles.”


By: Jake McCulloch