This article was originally published in Cherwell on 17 February 2017.
Merton College JCR have voted against Fairtrade certification. The motion, proposed by Samuel Banks and seconded by Christopher McGarry, Merton JCR Environment and Ethics Representative, fell by 17 votes to seven. There were nine abstentions.
Debate about the motion, put through Merton JCR on Sunday 12 February, concerned the prospect of increased prices, decreased quantities at Welfare Tea, and whether Fairtrade is truly an effective organisation.
Anna Schnupp, who spoke in opposition to the motion, did not question to need for a more sustainable model, but rather sought more robust action. She said: “I am pro the argument is that we should be doing more than just getting the Fairtrade label. I personally don’t think it shows that much to just be Fairtrade certified.”
“I think we should be taking more meaningful steps than becoming accredited by [a] label that doesn’t carry much weight. I recognise Fairtrade [as an] organisation does a lot in terms of sustainability, but it’s not the most transparent organisation.”
This result follows several colleges voting for Fairtrade accreditation as a result of the Oxford College Fairtrade Accreditation Campaign’s collaboration with JCRs to facilitating the passing of motions.
The motion outlined that “Oxford Brookes, Cambridge and 170 other universities and colleges are Fairtrade accredited, and that LMH, Christ Church, Linacre and several other colleges have successfully pioneered this policy”.
Oxford Brookes became the world’s first Fairtrade-accredited university in 2003. Cambridge was accredited in 2015. Magdalen, Corpus Christi, Keble and St Anne’s have all also passed motions for Fairtrade accreditation through their JCRs.
Steffie James, co-running the Oxford College Fairtrade Accreditation Campaign with OUSU and the Christian social justice organisation Just Love, told Cherwell: “We were disappointed that the Merton motion failed, especially as it seemed mainly due to misunderstanding about what Fairtrade certification would mean— the campaign doesn’t claim that Fairtrade is perfect or solves every problem, but it is at least a step in the right direction, until eventually there is enough consumer pressure that companies are forced to ensure every supply chain is ethical and just.”
“However, there is lots of progress in other colleges, and we hope to hold a debate next term to increase understanding about the issues surrounding Fairtrade so hopefully Merton’s rejection will not be final.”
Henry Grub, Merton JCR Charities Rep said: “I am quite embarrassed that Merton doesn’t seem to want to support this movement. Global poverty, exploitation and inequality are not issues that we can turn a blind eye to any longer. Fairtrade isn’t the silver bullet solution, but anything that goes some way to helping is better than nothing.”
Two weeks ago Magdalen College JCR passed a motion applying for Fairtrade accreditation of the college and endorsing the University-wide campaign that aims for every college in the university to be Fairtrade certified.
The motion was proposed by Magdalen’s outgoing Environment and Ethics trustee Matthew Steggles and passed with 42 votes in favour and one against. The successful motion mandates Magdalen’s Environment and Ethics representative to liaise with college’s home bursar and senior staff in order to make the college Fairtrade.
The proposal states that the JCR “have an obligation as global citizens to respect those who provide our food and clothing”, adding “Fairtrade certification provides a clear, sustainable and effective framework through which to fulfil this obligation”.