The latest achievement in DePaul’s nearly 20-year effort to protect the rights and safety of workers around the globe is its recent designation as a Fair Trade University by Fair Trade Campaigns, which consists of diverse organizations helping socially conscious products flourish. 

In its Vision 2018 strategic plan, the university pledges to use its Catholic and Vincentian identity to guide how it does business. Supporting fair trade products and implementing rules regarding good conduct, fair pay, women’s rights and other criteria have sent a strong signal through the years to companies that provide services to DePaul. Meanwhile, engaging students, faculty and staff in the process has contributed to yet another strategic desire, which is to create a more globally aware university community.

Anti-sweatshop movements in the 1990s led by college students across the country and here at DePaul ushered in an era in which universities formally aligned their business practices with their values. DePaul students concerned that their spirit wear could be made in sweatshops prompted the university to create a code of requirements for businesses that produced or sold apparel or insignia items bearing DePaul’s name or logo. It requires licensees to set reasonable working hours, pay overtime, allow workers to engage in collective bargaining and reject child or forced labor, among other provisions.

“The trademark and licensing policy was established in 1995 and the code of conduct was part of that policy,” according to Karen Loiacono, director of Marketing and Licensing in Athletics.  Soon afterward, DePaul began incorporating language into its contracts urging vendors to maintain a fair and safe work environment. By 2000, DePaul had established what is today the Fair Business Practices Committee (FBPC) to monitor compliance and adjudicate claims of violations.

The fair trade title and other efforts to support the dignity of workers creates “an opportunity to showcase a Vincentian commitment that we’ve had for a long time,” said Scott Kelley, assistant vice president for Vincentian Scholarship in the Office of Mission and Values and chair of the FBPC. “Students don’t come here because we are a fair trade university,” he said. “We do it because it’s the right thing to do.” 

DePaul applies its values inside the university as well. For example, it adopted a compensation philosophy in 2004 that includes a commitment to provide a living wage to full-time employees.

More recently, a vendor selection philosophy was adopted in 2012, said Jeff Bromberek, director of Procurement Services. It notes DePaul’s desire to defend the dignity and respect for the human person “in all of its contractual relationships with service providers.” DePaul also commits to working with companies that comply with all laws, are environmentally responsible and socially just, particularly those that support the Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact. These principles outline ethical expectations on human rights, labor standards, the environment and lawfulness.

Elise Hawley, a 2013 DePaul graduate, applied for the fair trade designation on DePaul’s behalf while she was a student pursuing a degree in geography and a Community Service Scholar. She launched a student advocacy organization and met with food service provider Chartwells to assess current and future product offerings. She also had to get a resolution supporting fair trade through the Student Government Association, FBPC and accepted by the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M., university president.

“Pursuing this was important because making critical consumer choices shouldn’t only be reserved for certain stores like Whole Foods,” she said. “Fair trade is a way to ensure that the products you are consuming are meeting both high environmental and social standards.”

When products are certified as fair trade it means the employees, artisans or farmers who created them were paid a living wage and used environmentally sustainable practices, according to Chicago Fair Trade, a local organization that advocates for these products through education and consumer campaigns.

Chartwells already offered fair trade products and readily agreed to increase the number of products served.  It added tea, rice, sugar and chocolate, and is researching health and beauty products to sell at the convenience store in the Lincoln Park Student Center, says James Lee, resident district manager. 

Fair trade products currently offered are Farmer Brothers Artisan Collection Coffee, Bowtruss Coffee, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Choice Tea, Choco Love, Wholesome sugar and Alter Eco rice.

The campus bookstore, Barnes & Noble, also sells fair trade products, including several varieties of Divine and Green and Black’s chocolate at its café, and Alta Gracia apparel, which is certified by the Worker Rights Consortium as a safe factory where staff rights are respected and employees are paid a living wage.

So have these efforts made a difference? All those involved say a resounding “yes.”