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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

EDITORIAL: Fair Trade requires valid petition, actual discussion

Published: September 16, 2005
Section: Opinions

At a recent faculty meeting, it was presented by Union officers that there is overwhelming support from the student body to replace all non-fair trade coffee on campus. This would lead to a roughly 20 to 25 cent increase in the price of coffee at all locations on campus.

While it is true that in a poll last year about 54 percent of the respondents (from approximately 1578 respondents) of the student body said they strongly agree with the practice of paying more for Fair Trade coffee and 24 percent voted that they agree, this does not constitute student support to replace non-fair trade coffee on campus.

We repeat, the students did not agree to replace regular coffee with fair trade coffee. That is not what the poll asked. The poll asked whether they would make a (personal) choice not to purchase regular coffee and not whether they support getting rid of regular coffee from campus.

In order to honestly claim that there is widespread support from the student body to replace regular coffee with Fair Trade coffee there needs to be a formal petition as defined by the Union Constitution.

It reads: Any issue upon which members of the Union wish to express a formal opinion may be presented for consideration in a petition. Petitions may not be amendments to the Union Constitution.

None of the steps required in the Constitution to make the poll an official petition were followed.

The Constitution states: In order for a petition to be validated by the Secretary, it must be signed by at least fifteen percent of the members of the Union. Each signed must state his/her name, class year, and telephone number. This did not happen.

The Constitution further states: At the next regularly scheduled Senate meeting following validation, there shall: 1) Be a presentation of the petition to the Senate by the sponsors of the petition. 2) Exist the option for the sponsors to withdraw their petition if the majority of the sponsors wish to do so. This also did not happen.

The Constitution then requires that students have a chance to submit an argument against such a petition. This never happen.

These are just three of the many things that should have happened that never did.
The ballot last year read: POLL2: I would be willing to pay an additional $0.20 per cup of coffee if I knew my money was going to support Fair Trade products that provide farmers with a living wage and ensure safe conditions for workers in the developing world.

It was presented as just a poll suggested by a clubone with no pretense of official policy attached to it. It did not get the any signatures to place it on the ballot. There was no con statement attached to it. There was no open public debate prior. And the appropriate voting options were not on the ballot. The poll didnt even express the fact that regular coffee would no longer be available.

Students werent asked whether they wanted to set policy, but rather were asked on whether they would make the choice personally. Thus it is invalid to draw any inferences from such an informal poll. In order to make the question valid, it needs to be phrased in a way that is clear that by voting IN FAVOR, students are voting to impose Fair Trade coffee on everyone by getting rid of regular coffee from campus and not just expressing their personal preference to use Fair Trade coffee.

In short there is currently a gaping lack of information available on Fair Trade and thus we cannot make a valid judgment on the proposal just yet. For example, how is Fair Trade actually benefiting those that it is supposed to? Why is someone trying to impose Fair Trade coffee on the students rather convincing him or her to make the choice on their own? If regular coffee is replaced, does that mean there will be no flavored coffee on campus? Why didnt the most liberal, or so we are told, member of the economics department not vote in favor of the proposal?