09 August 2010

Fair Trade Statement

Dear USU Members,

In light of the referendum held on May 12 and the increasing attention being given to the USU Board’s role in implementation, I would like to outline the current situation and allay the concerns being expressed by members of the student body on Fair Trade.

As you already know, 89.3% of voting students on May 12 said yes to the referendum on Fair Trade. We are proud to be the only student run union left in Australia and we are gladly working with the Fairly Educated team on this issue. Basically, whilst the referendum was constitutionally non-binding and effectively a poll on student preference in the running of a particular aspect of USU’s commercial operations, we are committed to assessing how USU can viably transform the clauses of the referendum into meaningful, sustainable (cost-free) action on Fair Trade in order to be mindful of the clear support indicated by students.

As mentioned earlier, the board has been assessing how we can make the referendum work best for the Union and for students. As part of this assessment your student elected board directors are, like other company board directors, required to cover the series of checks and balances that apply with their financial and legal responsibilities. Likewise, the proposal to receive the referendum and the action plan for the implementable clauses will come out of this process and will be discussed with the Fairly Educated Team tomorrow.

We are determined to address all of the concerns and would like to assure you that the board has in no way ‘rejected’ this referendum, nor made any official position clear that should alarm the stakeholders of the Fairly Educated campaign. Rather, we are engaging in discussions with Fairly Educated in order to make sure the Board’s actions on Fair Trade are as meaningful and sustainable as possible. It is important to us that we remain accountable to our members, but also that our members are fully aware of the issues that demand full and proper considerations before important decisions are made.

In order to aid a more complete understanding of the complexity of this issue for the board, I would like to explain some critical factors for your benefit, that have been left out of the recent campaigns.

1) Clause d) of the referendum outlines that the sale of Fair Trade products in USU outlets and the use of Fair Trade products in USU’s administrative units cannot commence until the expiry of the current contracts. The current contract with Vittoria will not expire until the 31st of December 2012. Unfortunately, the commercial and financial reality of the USU means that we cannot buy out of the current contract and doing so would cost upwards of $1.5 million. This kind of unfeasible expenditure would deeply affect the level and quality of the services that the Union currently provides and would not be in the best interests of the Union or the student body that it serves.

2) The financial cost of transitioning to 100% Fair Trade in 2013. This is something that will be investigated by the USU Steering Committee (clause b) so that the cost of picking up Fair Trade is viable and sustainable when the tender re-opens. In 2008, the cost of this would have been approximately $200,000. However, we are determined to ensure that Fair Trade Coffee suppliers are fully aligned with the Union’s criteria for quality, infrastructure and maintenance, whilst simultaneously working through the important cost issues that need to be resolved in a financially viable manner.

Despite these constraints, we are very clearly determined to continue to work with the Fairly Educated team in order to make the referendum work. Moreover, the board has, before the referendum even occurred, been moving toward providing fair trade options on campus. When the EOI was sent out for Parma and Cucina Café, we required that the tenant that would occupy that space provide fair trade coffee – and the original successful tender did. When Parma changed hands six weeks ago, the new tenant did not provide fair trade coffee – so the board engaged discussion with the new owner and enforced the terms of the licence, which included providing the Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified brand, Veneziana.

Even in the face of the aforementioned legal and commercial difficulties of the contract entered into in 2008, this board and its immediate predecessor has endeavoured to diversify the options for students on campus.

If you are interested in the USU’s policy positions please attend our Annual Policy Conference this Wednesday and engage with your Board of Directors on a range of policy topics including Fair Trade. The details can be found at http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=134246203284533&ref=ts

Thank you for engaging with us on Fair Trade and I hope this has allowed you to empathise with the Board on its role in implementing the referendum. Remember that the Board and myself are readily contactable if you have any more questions or would like to discuss this in more depth.

Kind Regards,

David Mann
The University of Sydney Union

1 comment :

  1. So you enforce fair trade coffee on a tenant but refuse to implement the same rules to USU outlets in a timely manner? Wreaks of hypocrisy!