With and From – Fair Trade Learning

Big Question: How can we work to ensure ethical community-campus partnerships in local and global experiential education?

Time Commitment:  60 minutes

Question for Reflection:

What type of consumer do you think you are when it comes to off-campus learning opportunities? Are you simply looking for an experience to consume (add to your resume, provide instagram worthy photos) or do you hope that the experience leads to action as an engaged citizen to create a more just world? Or is the reality a bit more complicated than these two alternatives would suggest?

Maybe you’ve never had the chance to think about these experiences in this way at all.  Regardless of your past experiences connecting with communities and experiential learning, understanding your expectations of what you believe these experiences should look like will be useful throughout this module.  

Take 2 minutes and create a list of your initial thoughts (don’t overthink it) in response to the question: What are the necessary characteristics of a good off-campus educational experience?

Why This Matters:

Off-campus learning opportunities (particularly those that involve travel experiences) are part of a multi-million dollar industry. The sheer number of students that travel per year (in the hundreds of thousands) and the amount of money generated have commodified global education in particular. Too often, the focus is on making money and satisfying the customer (education partners and students-as-consumers) to ensure the sale of the product. As a result, many of these global education programs and opportunities have the potential for doing more harm than good for students and communities.

While the paragraph above – and most of this page – focuses on programming that involves travel, we have repeatedly found this framework helpful for thinking through the ethics of local engagement as well. Commodification, objectification, voyeurism, and paternalistic assumptions don’t require travel. Work to keep local implications in mind as you work through this module.

Diving In, Part 1: Doing Good?

Why are students interested in off-campus experiences? Why are universities interested in providing their students with civic and global opportunities? Why are communities interested in hosting, and why do intermediary organizations get involved in this work?

While it’s not the only answer to the questions above, one very popular response across all stakeholders is wanting to do good. Below, we provide a few examples that help illustrate how complicated and difficult doing good can be in civic and global education. 

There is increasing awareness in popular media about the ethics of international volunteering and related criticisms of voluntourism. Why does it seem so natural for university students from the U.S. to “help” in international communities?

Watch: (2 minutes)  If Voluntourists Talked about North America 

Listen: (8 minutes) As ‘Voluntourism’ Explodes in Popularity, Who’s it Helping Most?

Research demonstrates that most host communities that receive volunteers and service-learning students would like to continue doing so, but under better terms. This is true for domestic and international partnerships, as demonstrated in the books Unheard Voices and International Service-Learning: Engaging Host Communities. 

Watch: (3 minutes) – Insights on good and bad community impacts of international volunteering

Good intentions aren’t enough. Fairness and ethical behavior are not inherent in this work. If we want more ethical partnerships we need to be intentional about how we plan, understand, assess, and make decisions in our partnerships. 

Diving In, Part 2: Fair Trade Learning

Fair Trade Learning (FTL) provides a set of standards, a rubric, and queries to evaluate community‐campus partnership. FTL may be useful for universities, NGOs, ethical business, and faith institutions as they work to improve the quality of their partnerships. 

Watch: (3:12 minutes) Fair Trade Learning

“FTL prioritizes reciprocity in relationships through cooperative, cross-cultural participation in learning, service, and civil society efforts. Rather than focusing on volunteer or student development alone, it holds community-driven development in equally high regard. FTL therefore explicitly advances the goals of economic equity, equal partnership, mutual learning, cooperative and positive social change, transparency, and sustainability. Fair Trade Learning explicitly engages the global civil society role of educational exchange in fostering a more just, equitable, and sustainable world” (Hartman, Paris, & Blache-Cohen; 2012).

This set of principles provides a starting point to pursue co‐creation of community-university partnerships and addresses the following principles:

1) Explicit dual purposes in our work, serving community and serving students simultaneously, and explicitly not privileging students over community

2) Community voice and direction—at every step in the process

3) Institutional commitment and partnership sustainability—and supporting multidirectional exchange

4) Transparency, specifically in respect to economic relationships and transactions

5) Environmental sustainability and footprint reduction

6) Economic sustainability in terms of effort to manage funding incursions in the receiving community and fund development at the university in a manner that takes a long view of the relationships involved

7) Deliberate diversity, intercultural contact, and reflection to systematically encourage intercultural learning and development among participants and community partners

8) Global community building—in a sense that we keep one eye always on the question of how this work pushes us into better relationships around the world; how our civil society networks grow into community; how our efforts abroad should inform our actions at home 

10) Proactive protection of the most vulnerable populations

**From: Fair Trade Learning: Ethical Standards for community-engaged international volunteerism.  

Question for Reflection: Please revisit the list you created in the previous activity about the necessary characteristics of a good off-campus educational experience. Reflect on the relationship between the FTL principles and your brainstorm list. 

  • What principle surprised you the most? 
  • Are there principles that you disagree with? 
  • Are there principles that you are confused about? 
  • What might be missing?

Page Completion – Outcomes:

Now that you have completed this page and the readings, videos, and activities within it, you should have strengthened your understanding of: 

  • Critiques of conventional forms of off-campus learning, volunteering, and service-learning
  • Communities’ articulated desires for partnerships
  • Fair Trade Learning as a framework to promote ethical community-campus engagement
  • The relationship between your own dispositions and the Fair Trade Learning approach

Please share feedback on this page by taking this 5-question survey. Thank you!

Next: How can we apply or use Fair Trade Learning to explore global partnerships?

Citation for this page: Reynolds, N., & Al-Ibrahim, B. (2020). How can we work to ensure ethical community-campus partnerships in local and global experiential education? In E. Hartman (Ed.). Interdependence: Global Solidarity and Local Actions. The Community-based Global Learning Collaborative. Retrieved from http://globalsolidaritylocalaction.sites.haverford.edu/fair-trade-learning/

Further Reading

The Unheard Voices International Service Learning


Campus Compact. (n.d.). Fair Trade Learning. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from https://compact.org/global-sl/ftl/

Hartman, Eric & Paris, Cody & Blache-Cohen, Brandon. (2014). Fair Trade Learning: Ethical standards for community-engaged international volunteer tourism. Tourism and Hospitality Research. 14. 108-114. 10.1177/1467358414529443.

Larsen, M. (Ed.). (2017). International Service Learning (Routledge Research in International and Comparative Education) (1st ed., Vol. 1). Abingdon-on-Thames, England: Routledge.

Tryon, E. A., Stoecker, R., & Hilgendorf, A. (Eds.). (2009). The Unheard Voices (1st ed., Vol. 1). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press.

Videos and pieces cited within the videos:

End Humanitarian Douchery. (2015, April 6). If Voluntourists Talked About North America [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8GZjZTZrWA&feature=emb_logo

Kindea Labs. (2015, July 16). Research Insights for Best Practice International Volunteering [Video file]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/133662301

Kindea Labs. (2016, January 27). Fair Trade Learning [Video file]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/153249405