Feb 262003
Authors: Kristy Fenton

Stop and think about that sip of coffee or bite of chocolate. It might be a fair-trade product.

Coffee is harvested, sun dried and hand picked, before it is roasted, brewed and ends up in a cup. Cocoa assumes some of the same processes before turning into chocolate.

Farmers in developing countries make a living off harvesting these resources, but the highly competitive global economy can make it hard for workers to negotiate a living wage.

Fair trade businesses establish a North American market for goods from producers in developing countries who receive a fair wage, community support and a dependable non-free market based price for their work.

Organizations like the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) and Transfair USA certify businesses that participate in fair trade. The certification means that the producers are making a fair living wage and are complying with fair trade regulations.

“Under the current free-trade economic system, small farmers are marginalized by global markets, which seek to maximize profits through exploiting capital and labor,” said Ed Lawson, an anthropology and economics undergraduate.

Prices in the global market fluctuate tremendously and an increase in supply usually means a falling price. One of the major focuses of the fair trade system is to guarantee a stable price to producers.

“Due to global markets, farmers must sell their product to middle men based on free market prices, which can result in the total amount paid to small farmers not equaling the cost of production,” Lawson said.

Campus-Wide Fair Trade Involvement

Fair Trade Coffee is the exclusive coffee brewed in the Department of Sociology and a newly-formed student group emphasizes that this trend should continue campus wide.

Three professors, Laura Raynolds, Pete Taylor and Doug Murray research fair trade and have worked with coffee cooperatives in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador.

“Fair trade is part of a whole range of things happening around the world that represents peoples’ efforts to reverse a typically unsustainable and unjust system,” Murray said.

In the coming month, the professors’ research will be displayed on a fair trade Web site they created, which can be accessed through the sociology department’s web page.

The fair trade label and certification started in the1970s, but the idea and practice date back even earlier, Raynolds said.

Murray adds that fair trade has two major results: the first, a measurable reduction in soil erosion and second, organic production, which means discontinuing the use of pesticides not only in coffee but in other crops. This has a positive environmental effect on all aspects of farming, he said.

“There is no such thing as free trade; all trade has rules of the game. Fair trade has rules that are fair,” Taylor said.

Ed Lawson heads a student fair-trade committee that works with a campus social group called Free. This newly formed organization is working to bring certified fair trade coffee to CSU.

Lawson traveled to Nicaragua over winter break and worked at a fair trade coffee cooperative called PRODECOOP.

The fair-trade committee sold fair-trade chocolate in the Lory Student Center Flea Market around Valentine’s Day, raising awareness about consumer and producer relationships.

The chocolate originated from the farm cooperative Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana. This cooperative outsources their cocoa to Day Chocolate Company, located in London, which makes Divine Chocolate products.

Some profits from fair trade go to building schools, digging wells and providing necessary health care.

The fair-trade committee holds weekly meetings on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. in C363 Clark. Raynolds, Murray and Taylor recommend visiting www.globalexchange.org and www.transfairusa.org for more information about fair trade products or to find out how to get involved in fair trade.

A Local Store Committed to Fair Trade

The gifts and artwork from around the world that line the walls of Ten Thousand Villages are not the only things that make this specialty shop unique.

The nonprofit fair-trade business, located at 113 Old Town Square, offers more than their colorful window might suggest. The store is filled with stories: on each product is the country of production and videos in the store share personal histories of the farmers and artisans.

“When you buy fairly-traded goods you are not supporting sweatshop conditions,” Wendy Poppin-Chambers, store manager said. “Fair trade is about money, sustainability, the welfare of the workers, healthcare, respect and dignity.”

This local business is part of a chain of Ten Thousand Villages stores in North America aiming to help artisans make an acceptable living selling their goods. The company is a program of the Mennonite Central Committee, a relief and development agency and was one of the earliest fair-trade initiatives started in North America.

Edna Ruth Byler, a volunteer with MCC, started the business in 1946 during a trip to Puerto Rico when she brought embroidery back to the United States that she had purchased from the local women. Her neighbors’ overwhelming interest in her selections helped start the official Ten Thousand Villages idea.

“Fair trade is about sustainability,” Poppin-Chambers said. “It’s about making sure villages aren’t cutting down too many natural resources that might force them to have to move in a few years to survive. We teach communities to use fast growing trees that need little water and how to replant and sustain those resources,” she said.

Ten Thousand Villages pays half the amount of the order up front so that farmers, artisans and craftspeople do not need to take out loans to buy supplies and get started. The rest of the money is paid when the finished products are complete, so that when the goods arrive to the Ten Thousand Villages warehouse in Akron, Pa., they are completely paid for, Poppin-Chambers said.

Ten Thousand Villages hosts a Giving Twice Shopping Night several times a year, in which they donate 10 percent of shopping sales to a local Fort Collins charity.

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