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USU’s new coffee supplier not “fair trade” but socially responsible

Kira Spucys-Tahar gets her caffeine hit from ethical sources.

Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade are both companies which certify coffee. The former focuses on environmental standards while the latter is based on labour conditions.

The University of Sydney Union has voted to introduce a new Rainforest Alliance certified coffee supplier to all USU outlets from 2013.

The USU’s current Vittoria contract expires on December 31 and the new three-year Canterella Bros. contract, while not conforming to Fair Trade standards, rates highly in corporate social responsibility practices. Despite a referendum held in May 2010 in which  89.3 per cent of voting students said ‘yes’ to Fair Trade, the current Board resolved to ensure they chose a new supplier based on the best sustainability and labour practices in line with what they perceived as the ethos behind the fair trade movement.

The USU Coffee Working Party consisting of President Astha Rajvanshi, Honorary Treasurer Rhys Pogonoski, and Board Director Tom Raue as well as CEO Andrew Woodward, Operations Manager Peter Underwood, and Marketing Director Alistair Cowie, met with representatives from campus based activist group Fairly Educated and TAG – the Tertiary Access Group – earlier in the year to begin the research process.

TAG is a not-for-profit organisation that represents most major university and TAFE organisations across Australia including the USU and the student unions at UTS and UNSW. TAG acted as a third party facilitator in the process of deciding the new hot beverage provider for the USU.

Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade are both companies which certify coffee. The former focuses on environmental standards while the latter is based on labour conditions.

The Corporate Social Responsibility Hot Beverage Tender process opened for thirty days from June 12 this year. There were 24 corporations advised of the tender process and the USU received 10 applications for review. Of these applications, four were Fair Trade certified, three Rainforest Alliance certified, two UTZ certified (a European classification similar to FairTrade) and one FairTrade/Rainforest Alliance certified.

When assessing each application, the Coffee Working Party took five key components into consideration including: Corporate Social Responsibility, product range and pricing, equipment, business support and staff training. This was used in tandem with TAG’s ‘flag’ criteria where companies were required to provide information about their health and safety standards, environmental standards, carbon footprint, ethical consumption, pollution and waste management, and distribution strategies. Added to this were questions regarding labour standards as suggested by Fairly Educated.

Each business applying for the tender was asked to provide evidence of an ethical supply chain. Ensuring child labour was not used in manufacture of the product was a key concern, USU President Astha Rajvanshi said.

The Working Party created a shortlist of two suppliers which was taken to the September USU Board meeting. One was FairTrade/Rainforest Alliance certified, the second Rainforest Alliance certified.  The second option had better overall results in the TAG-flag ratings. After vigorous discussion, the Board voted 8-2 in favour of the Rainforest Alliance certified company Canterella Bros.

“Fairly Educated were obviously disappointed with the result, but recognised they were part of the process,” Ms Rajvanshi said. She also outlined that Fairly Educated would partner with the organisation in further efforts to ensure sustainable practices within the Union.

The initial 2010 referendum was constitutionally non-binding to the USU and effectively only a survey regarding students’ preferences in commercial operations. In response, the then USU Board established the Fair Trade Working Party (later renamed the Coffee Working Party) to examine the viability of introducing fair trade options to USU outlets.

Despite not being officially Fair Trade accredited, Canterella Bros. is 100 per cent organic and 100 per cent Australian owned. The business also has links to the not for profit organisation OzHarvest.

USU Honorary Secretary Zac Thompson sampled all the coffees available from the potential suppliers. “[Canterella] was more flavoursome and aromatic, and slightly sweeter than the current coffees,” he said.

A key question for students: how much will it cost? Coffee, hot chocolate, tea, and chai will be roughly the same price. “The choice we made is the best financially and the best ethically,” Tom Raue said.

Mr Raue is the new official ambassador for Corporate Social Responsibility at the University of Sydney Union. He will also be bringing a proposal to the upcoming October Board meeting to introduce a new Environmental Portfolio.

There are still some details to be worked out for the new Canterella coffee changeover. The new USU Hub, an online community discussion initiative, will be a testing ground for new designs for the coffee cups, with users asked to give feedback and ideas. The USU will also be making efforts to educate students about more sustainable practices.

The new coffee will be implemented by the start of semester one, 2013, and will be launched during O-Week.