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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Coffee referendum to be voted on by November

Published: September 23, 2005
Section: News

There will be a formal petition to gauge undergraduate student support for completely replacing regular coffee with coffee grown under conditions in which those growing it receive a living wage, announced Union President Jenny Feinberg 07 in response to last weeks Hoot editorial decrying the use of a previous poll as official support from the students.

We are now to issue a referendum, Feinberg stated in an interview with The Hoot. No one is going to be caught off guard about this.

Feinberg also mentioned that The Hoots editorial was correct in calling for a ballot with signatures, as well as more specific wording, confirming that fair trade coffee will indeed completely phase out free trade around campus.

Feinberg stated her own personal support of switching to fair trade coffee. Its something we want to happen, Feinberg said, speaking on behalf of the Student Union. She also confirmed that all [coffee] flavors will still be the same.

In a Spring 2005 poll nearly 80 percent of voters expressed that they would personally buy coffee that was 20 cents more expensive, but the money from which was going to producers that provide farmers with a living wage and ensure safe conditions for workers in the developing world. There was no mention in the poll that it was official or binding, and the supporters of the poll did not follow the constitutionally outlined steps required to make such a poll a formal view of the students.

This vote was prompted by the Fair Trade brigade, a group of students formed last fall to raise awareness of fair trade issues and to promote the use of fair trade products on and off campus, as well as to increase the availability of fair trade products on campus.

After two semesters of negotiations with Brandeis dining service provider Aramark, the Brigade and several Union officers met Monday with Vice President for Campus Operations Mark Collins to discuss the switch.
According to Union and the Fair Trade Brigade members, Collins confirmed that the price increase may be $0.20 or possibly more, but said he wants to take time to do the required research in order to confirm the necessity of such an increase.

In an e-mail sent to the Fair Trade Brigade list, Brigade member Lauren Abramowitz 07 stated that Collins told them during the meeting that converting to all Fair Trade is a reasonable goal that could be reached by November!

In an interview with the Hoot, Collins said we had a very productive discussion about the Union and Fair Trade Brigades goals to fully convert the campus to full fair trade coffee. I agreed to begin my investigation to look at all of our options in terms of pricing, product availability and feasibility.

Collins told The Hoot that the goal of November is reasonable if all the issues can be vetted and resolved. He explained that for everything to go perfectly, he needs to find all of the details regarding the proposal;

the students, faculty and staff need to all know the full details and consent to the switch.

However, there is still some leg work left to do for everyone, he said. I need to have a full understanding of the implications including cost and product availability while the students also have leg work to do in re-doing their petition to include some more detailed informationto give a full disclosure of the implication of going fully fair trade.

Conceptually everyone embraces the issues of fair trade, but the devil is in the details, Collins said.
Key members of the Free Trade Brigade agreed to meet with The Hoot to further outline their plan. We think weve done a lot of education [in] the last year, said Finance Board member Dan Mauer 06 who works in both the Fair Trade Brigade and the Brandeis Labor Coalition. One thing we talked about is having a forum about [Fair Trade]. Were going to [educate] people with as many other people as possible.

Members of the Brigade, including Lila Starbuck 08, said that the $0.20 increase in price is not set in stone. Some schools choose to absorb the price increase, she said, citing her studies of exactly how much coffee goes into one cup, as well as price comparisons with such schools as the University of Rochester, whose Fair Trade situation is similar to Brandeis. Others offer three cent, five cent, seven cent, or 10 cent raises.
I think it should be $0.13 cents at most, said Starbuck.

Yale [and] Harvard have had lower prices, added Mauer. Were not sure why.

Feinberg ended the meeting with The Hoot with assurances that precautions will be taken to ensure the accurate representation of the student body. We promise to gauge more student responses, she said. Were going to get the student poll prepared, and [Fair Trade Brigade] will work to educate the students.
Dubbed fair trade coffee by its national supporters, the coffee is bought from farms that are certified as meeting fair trade standards. According to to become Fair Trade certified, an importer must pay a minimum of $1.26 per pound of coffee and provide technical assistance such as help transitioning to organic farming to farms. Supporters claim that although the typical selling price of 60-70 cents per pound is at or higher than minimum wage in poorer coffee-growing countries, it is not enough for farm workers to live adequately.

Supporters of Fair Trade say that due to local exploitive middlemen, farmers will go into debt during particularly bad harvesting seasons. The Fair Trade standards require that coffee importers provide credits towards future sales to farmers to stay out of debt.

On Sept. 8, the faculty was asked to vote on whether they support a complete switch to Fair Trade coffee. The faculty voted overwhelmingly to support the motion brought forward by Prof. Gordie Fellman (SOC) and the motion passed with 54 faculty members voting in favor, three against, and seven abstentions.

I think Fair Trade coffee is a good idea. I think Fair Trade anything is a good idea, Fellman said, who is considered by many as one of the most left leaning and vocal activist professors at Brandeis. I think thats just a good idea for justice, and Im glad to have played any role in it.

According to reports in the Justice, not one economics professor voted in favor of the faculty poll.
I thought [the students] should have a choice, said Professor Michael Coiner (ECON). If the proposal had said Aramark would offer a choice, I would have voted for it [but] there was not adequate time [at the meeting] to discuss this.

This sentiment was echoed by fellow economist Prof. Rachel McCulloch (ECON). I think that people should be able to make their decision over buying Fair Trade coffee over the other kind.

If the undergraduate student body votes in favor of such a move, the graduate student Union of roughly 1,800 students would remain as the only campus body of significant size, other than campus employees, yet to take a stand on the fair trade issue.