Calling it a “momentous achievement,” Fair Trade USA recently confirmed that the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey is the first graduate school in the nation to earn designation as a “Fair Trade University.”
“Fair trade” is generally defined as trade in which fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries—e.g. prices that will both support equitable wages and provide sufficient margin to generate capital for future reinvestment. In order to be designated as a fair trade institution, the Institute had to complete a process outlined by Fair Trade USA. The process includes forming a team, auditing current practices across the organization, sourcing a minimum number of fair trade products, participating in fair trade education, and issuing a resolution signed by the school’s dean.
“Fair trade is about promoting farmer welfare by meeting specific standards,” explains Celina Lima MBA/MAIPD ’18, who led a team of students and worked with staff to secure the Institute’s designation over the past eight months. “It’s a way to make sure the people producing the product are getting paid fairly for the work they’re doing, and have the opportunity to reinvest in their community through added premiums received in addition to the above market wages earned.” With a smile, Lima notes while reviewing the requirements for certification that “MIIS was already doing all of these things – we just had to connect the dots.”
Lima adds that the Center for Social Impact Learning (CSIL) was “instrumental” in the Institute’s efforts to secure fair trade designation, supporting the initiative and helping to connect Lima and others with key officials at Fair Trade USA and on campus. The team’s efforts also led to collaboration with the campus Sustainability Council and the Student Council, whose support included helping plan events for the upcoming Earth Week celebration as well as other activities on campus throughout the semester. The team’s efforts were first showcased on December at a Pop-Up Market sponsored by CSIL that featured a number of fair trade vendors and a fair trade booth as part of the initiative’s educational efforts.
“The fact that students led the drive to achieve fair trade designation for the Institute underscores what makes this school so unique,” suggests Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Institute Jeff Dayton-Johnson. “Our programs are designed to give students the skills and tools to make a difference from day one, and they often prove this out by achieving remarkable results before they even graduate.”
“It means everything to me to have MIIS be the first certified fair trade graduate school in the country,” concludes Lima. “This school has been such a leader in the whole area of sustainability and social impact investing. To me, this shows that we’re committed to looking at multiple ways of addressing problems, supporting developing economies with both aid and trade. I think fair trade embodies everything that MIIS stands for.”