Students Lobby for Fair Trade Coffee
January 31, 2007 6:09 PM
Before you take a sip of your coffee this morning, stop and think what it says about you.
Does it tout your personal convictions about human rights and decent wages for labor, or that you buy the cheapest beans around for your morning fix?
A group of SF State students want our school’s coffee to say something about the entire campus. That’s why they have started a campaign to ensure that every one of the coffee venues at SF State offers Fair Trade-certified coffee.
“With Fair Trade coffee, you know the farmers who grew and harvested the beans get a decent price for their work. A lot of campuses in the U.S. have 100 percent Fair Trade coffee, so it’s something we really should be able to accomplish,” said Shuntelle Martin, one of the students organizing the project. “Students just need to know about it, so this semester we’re really focusing on awareness.”
That’s why Martin, 24, a senior majoring in international relations, spent time last Thursday sitting in front of the Cesar Chavez Student Center at a table with some of her co-campaigners trying to educate students about the benefits of Fair Trade products.
During the first week of school, Martin, Ofir Uziel, 28, and Phimy Truong, 22, handed out flyers and collected signatures for a petition to convince the university to adopt a 100 percent Fair Trade policy. This week they have a table offering more information as well as free samples of certified Fair Trade products, such as coffee and fruit.
“We really want people to know they can make a choice with their purchases,” said Uziel, a junior environmental studies major. “Fair Trade coffee on campus is really a vehicle to raise consciousness, to educate students about this concept.”
Last semester, SF State professor Andy Peri assigned the students in his Environmental Problems and Solutions class a project: design a campaign to target an environmental problem. Martin, Uziel and Truong, along with some other classmates, decided to focus on getting Fair Trade coffee available in every coffee shop on campus. The project inspired them so much, they decided to take it beyond just a class assignment, and started campaigning seriously, along with guidance from Peri.
“There are two parts of this campaign. We want to continue to work with the various managers of the venues on campus, but we also want to focus on educating students about Fair Trade” Peri said. “Eventually, we want students to say they won’t drink anything but Fair Trade coffee.”
From 1962 to 1989, coffee harvests were regulated by the International Coffee Agreement (ICA), an international treaty between the coffee-producing nations of the world and the countries they export to. Expert opinions as to whether the ICA actually did good or harm are conflicting, but the reality is that when it was dismantled, a surplus of coffee harvests ensued, along with a severe crash in coffee prices. As a result, farmers who were making a decent living selling their coffee were suddenly plunged into poverty.
Enter the Fair Trade movement. Started as an effort to target the abysmal wages of farmers, the movement came up with a certification process and a label for foods that would assure the consumer that their food was purchased at a fair price. Now headquartered in Bonn, Germany, the Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO) oversees certification groups in more than 60 countries. TransFair USA, based in Oakland, is the only organization that certifies Fair Trade goods in the United States.
According to TransFair USA, coffee is a $5 billion per year business, and Americans consume 2.3 billion pounds every year, more than any other nation in the world. Though it remains largely based in the “specialty coffee” market, coffee bearing the Fair Trade label has grown in the last eight years.
In 2002, TransFair USA knew of more than 400 U.S. college campuses that offered Fair Trade coffee, and even some of the larger chain coffee shops, such as Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee, have started to offer a Fair Trade version of their brand. The selection at such coffee houses, however, sometimes leaves much to be desired. When Peri went into a Starbucks and asked for a cup of Fair Trade coffee, he was told the Fair Trade beans weren’t readily brewed.
“Instead of a regular cup of drip coffee, I was offered a French press of the Fair Trade brew,” he said. “What I got was like sludge in a cup. That’s not going to be appealing to a lot of people.”
As for the coffee venders on campus, the biggest selling point will be the demand from students.
Carmelina Narciso, owner of Taqueria Girasole and Carmelina La Petite, said she is more than willing to offer a Fair Trade option, but she needs to know it will sell.
“I think it is fantastic, the whole Fair Trade thing. If we can help out our community as well as the communities our coffee comes from, that’s wonderful,” Narciso said. “But I’m a businesswoman, too. If students want it, I want to offer it. Most of all, I want my customers to have a choice. I don’t want their options to be limited.”
The student campaigners understand the vendors’ concerns, but still want to push for a campus stocked with 100 percent Fair Trade coffee.
“The response from all the owners of the shops on campus has been really positive, but they need to know there’s a demand for the product,” Martin said. “Fair Trade products really do something for farmers and the environment. And we believe people will pay for a clean conscience.”
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