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Fair Trade Learning

Tool Objectives: 

1. To consider the role of ethics in community engagement in international education.

2. To review and apply one ethical framework in international education: Fair Trade Learning.

3. To develop recommendations supporting continuous program enhancement, specifically in respect to quality community partnerships.

Tool Description: 

In recent years, there has been astonishing growth in international programming that embeds service-learning, volunteerism, or some form of community engagement.  This tool introduces the idea of Fair Trade Learning as a framework through which to critically examine ethical standards for community-engaged international education.  Through a series of activities facilitated prior to departure, while abroad and upon return, students are asked to reframe their education abroad program as subject of study through the lens of fair trade learning standards. Though designed for community-engaged programs, the tool is relevant for all programs interested in establishing equitable community partnerships.

Tool Procedures: 
  1. Students should be required to read the following articles prior to departure, as follows:

a. Higgins-Desbiolles, F. and Russell-Mundine, G. (2008) Absences in the volunteer tourism phenomenon: The right to travel, solidarity tours, and transformation beyond the one-way. In Lyons, K.D. and Wearing, S. Journeys of discovery in volunteer tourism: International case study perspectives. Oxfordshire: CABI, pp. 182-194.

b.  Hartman, E. (2013). The market, ideals, and international volunteers: The story and the tensions behind Fair Trade Learning. Building a Better World Forum. Available at

c.  Fair trade learning. Building a better world forum. Available at

  1. Students should also be required to watch the following brief videos prior to departure:
    1. The Ethics of Development. (2013). University of British Columbia. Available at
    2. Finding a Responsible Volunteer Placement (2014). Learning Service. Available at
  1. As described in Appendix 21b, prior to departure, form small groups of 3-5 students each.  Note that each group will remain consistent throughout the course.  The task for each group is to understand, apply and reflect upon the core principles of Fair Trade Learning. The education abroad program serves as the primary case for consideration.  Each small group is responsible for applying and facilitating a class discussion on one component of the standards before, during, and after immersion.

Optional: Whether pre-departure or upon return, consider using one class meeting to facilitate a discussion of students’ reasons for global engagement (see Appendix 21a).  Have students divide into groups of three.  Within each group, have the students share their rankings and ask them to complete the exercise again but this time ranking them based upon group consensus.  They will need to fill use the right-hand column to do so.  After 15 minutes or so, bring the group back together and facilitate a discussion around the following questions:

  • What are your observations?
  • What criteria did you use to complete the ranking?
  • What did you observe in the interactive exercise?
  • What were commonalities?
  • What were differences?
  • Would you argue that any of the examples are not service?
  • Does it change your evaluation of an item if it ends with “in a developing country” or “internationally” or not (e.g. micro-lending, housing)? How? Why?
  • Is there a universal definition of service?
  • If there are so many types of service how do groups/institutions proceed with common language of service?
Tool Evaluation: 

Details of each assignment should be written into the course syllabus and account for a predetermined course grade percentage.  Grading should be based on completion of the assignment as specified.

Tool Time Requirement: 

At least one class session during each phase (pre-departure, in-county & post-study abroad)

Tool Author(s): 

E. Hartman & A. Ogden, 2014

Site copyright 2012, University of Kentucky, Education Abroad.
Toolkit Authors: Duarte Morais, Ph.D., Anthony C. Ogden, Ph.D., & Christine Buzinde, Ph.D.
More information about the toolkit authors.

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