What is the Fairtrade Award?

The Fairtrade website runs with the mantra ‘choose the world you want’. This simple phrase is pertinent to all the decisions we make as individuals and, of course, those we make as a world leading university. At UCL, we have been marking Fairtrade fortnight for nearly a decade now and building on our work as a Fairtrade university. In spring 2022, we hosted our biennial NUS Fairtrade audit, with three of our students trained to audit UCL and Students’ Union UCL efforts to supply Fairtrade products on campus, as well as engage the wider community on ethical supply chains, with newer and broader reaching criteria to consider.  

In a collaboration between Sustainable UCL, Students Union UCL and UCL’s caterer, CH&CO, we completed a workbook covering 56 different criteria. We are pleased to note that we achieved around 60% of available scoring, performing strongly in leadership, strategy, procurement, retail, and catering. This centred around ensuring Fairtrade products were available in our catering outlets, continued engagement of Fairtrade throughout the year, and efforts to promote sustainable food on campus. These are the core areas of Fairtrade compliance and thus, we are pleased to retain our 1-star Fairtrade award for the university. The areas to improve upon involve incorporating Fairtrade and other ethical consumption issues into wider curriculum and outreach activities, to have further reaching impacts outside of the university.  

Fairtrade at the Union

As surveys with students and the history of pro-Fairtrade policies at the Students’ Union UCL show, fair wages, ethical trade, and sustainable farming have been important to our student community. That is why, in line with our commitments to sustainability and ethical procurement and our charitable purpose, all Union cafes make good value Fairtrade products available as a standard for students on campus, including the ever-best-selling Fairtrade coffee. These efforts have been echoed by great work improving availability of and awareness about Fairtrade products in UCL-managed outlets run by CH&CO.  Providing students with an ethical way of getting their caffeine or chocolate fix also creates an opportunity for raising awareness about Fairtrade Foundation and its positive impacts on farmer communities, the climate and global trade, which in turn helps shape habits and values of our members – the leaders and shapers of tomorrow. 

Apart from helping us live up to our students’ values, the framework of the Fairtrade University certification has also reinforced the collaboration with UCL, as the partnership is key to achieving the Fairtrade status. This creates opportunities for more powerful impact and broader reach as the partnership implements a collaborative Fairtrade action plan.

The Fairtrade effort

Sourcing Fairtrade products isn’t without its challenges. Over the past few years many chocolate producers such as Cadburys and Nestle have moved away from the Fairtrade accreditation, choosing to create their own in-house verification schemes. Although these do have some merit, the standards they require are lesser than Fairtrade’s thorough audit process that guarantees cocoa farmers above market-rate payments for their goods. However, some chocolate brands are forging ahead on fair-sourcing and sustainability. Look out for Tony’s Chocolonely and Divine on campus.

Also leading the pack on supporting global farmers are coffee suppliers who work under a ‘direct trade’ model. This is when coffee roasters have direct relationships with farmers; it cuts out the middlemen meaning the farmers get a better deal, and the roasters can guarantee traceability and quality of their products. Although not a replacement for Fairtrade, it is another way to tell if you’re purchasing an ethical product. Look out for coffee from Union and The Roasting Party, as well as the Fairtrade blend from the Real Coffee Company on campus.

What's next

The areas to improve upon involve incorporating Fairtrade and other ethical consumption issues into wider curriculum and outreach activities, to have further reaching impacts outside of the university. However, the partnership agrees that a more holistic approach to ethical consumption and sustainable food is the key priority. Whilst we want to maintain and improve upon our Fairtrade scoring over the next year, we also want to reduce single-use plastic in our catering, keep sourcing sustainable food and encouraging other initiatives such as Powered by Plants through offering default vegetarian events catering at the Students' Union. Over the next year we plan to expand our Sustainable Food working group meetings and push on with this vitally important area of sustainability.

The Award

Most of the criteria show the UCL are doing very well in their Fairtrade effort, with clear and well-presented evidence. However, if a few themes were to be improved and more evidence given to show in the audit, they could easily gain an even higher achievement. Overall, it is a well-done performance of Fairtrade across the campus.

Xiansong Huang and Trizzha Feliciano, student auditors from University College London


Joanna Socha, Students’ Union UCL,

Rosie Rayner-Law, CH&CO

Evan Landy, Sustainable UCL