Frosh packages handed out by the student unions of Toronto's three universities could all use a little less corporate junk and a few more goodies pumping conscious consumerism. But which university's grab bag for impressionable first-year students is the most socially responsible? Here's the trouble we found when we took a peek inside.
York University (Atkinson College)
Not much, save for the Atkinson Handbook, printed on 100 per cent recycled paper with vegetable-based inks and fully union and volunteer made.
Lots of unrecyclable plastic stuff.
Major corporate presence: cologne from Lacoste and Axe, Ikea gift card, Fabutan sunscreen, Wrigley's Excel gum.
Insane $120 price tag.
Not much pushing political and other campus causes.
All the companies the university uses are supposed to "properly remunerate employees," but the towel and insulated lunch bag were made in China, where unions are illegal and wages are rock bottom.
Several made-in-Mexico polyester T-shirts, including a Hawaiian-themed number that looks like it will bleed dyes for several washings.
Mostly a big loot bag. Atkinson tried to stay responsible - the college actually removed some corporate stuff added to the pack by York - but probably didn't want to look cheap. After all, colleges do their own sponsorship fundraising and want to outshine the competition with impressive "gifts" like the cheap transitor masquerading as an MP3 player included in this kit.
"We took out things that competed with services provided by student-run organizations."
Michelle Steele, executive director, Atkinson Students Association
University of Toronto
Most of the corporate goodies (or is that baddies?) that filled frosh kits in years past were jettisoned.
The $4.50 price tag.
The Nalgene water bottle. The jury's still out on whether Lexan polycarbonate resin, which has been linked to developmental abnormalities, poses a health hazard.
Nalge Nunc International, the company that makes the bottles, is the target of a boycott because of its manufacture of restraining devices used in animal research.
U of T's student council is trying to clean up its frosh act but could have upped its eco and social responsibility rating by opting for a Canada-made hemp bag instead of the India-made cotton number and by tossing the made-in-China flashlight. The made-in-Mexico T-shirt is also worrisome (the student union admits to not being able to source them), given what the Maquila Solidarty Network has uncovered about sweatshops in Mexico.
"We did want to make it corporate-free, but we also understand that we need some corporate sponsorship to make a frosh kit. One thing we're trying to do for next year is avoid credit card advertising from MBNA."
Samson Romero, vice-president, campus life, U of T Students Administrative Council
Rogers Media sponsored the kit but didn't put its name anywhere on it.
The cotton laundry bag is made in Canada. It's free.
While there's not much in the way of corporate-sponsored trinkets, Fido, Apple and Travel Cuts make their presence felt with coupons offering savings and special deals on larger purchases.
The student union says none of the kit was made in sweatshops, but it's worth noting that the whiteboard and pen are made in China - again, probably by exploited workers.
No fancy distractions like Hawaiian shirts to distract attention from info materials on how to get active on campus and in the community and get more out of Ryerson's Student Union.
"We had to cut our budget, so we were forced to have the frosh kit we had. We actually missed deadlines because of the diligent research being done on the manufacturing and cost of our kits."
Nora Loreto, vice-president, education, Ryerson Students Administrative Council