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Long term benefits from supporting Fair Trade

Published: November 18, 2005
Section: Opinions


Next week, we will have a campus-wide vote on switching Brandeis to Fair Trade coffee. On the face of it, this vote may not seem like its that important, but a vote in favor is a key step in helping alleviate poverty among many third-world coffee farmers and in putting Brandeis face at the front of a growing university movement.

The benefits of Fair Trade certified coffee are plentiful, but it seems that a description of the logistical impact of the vote is necessary first. If next weeks referendum passes, all of Usdan and the non-Kosher side of Sherman will switch to selling only Fair Trade coffee, with prices staying the same in Sherman and increasing by $0.20 in Usdan. At that point, the administration and Aramark will evaluate how sales of Fair Trade coffee go. If sales of Fair Trade coffee are high, Java City will also switch to Fair Trade. So, this referendum simply gives students a chance to vote with their pocketbooks.

The question then is, what is Fair Trade coffee? Over the last two decades, a huge oversupply of coffee on the world market has emerged, for many reasons. This oversupply means that coffee farmers are often barely paid enough for food and shelter, if that. On top of that, the price of coffee is extremely volatile, so even when the price rises, farmers cant do any meaningful long-term planning to invest their money.
Currently, the price of coffee on the world market is under $1 per pound, while it usually costs around $0.80 per pound to grow coffee. Fair Trade coffee addresses these problems facing individual farmers and the coffee market as a whole.

Fair Trade coffee farmers are paid at least $1.26 per pound for their coffee. Additionally, they have long-term contracts with distributors, which are beneficial for all involved in markets as volatile as that for coffee according to Economics Professor Rachel McCullough. Using this additional money, communities often build roads, schools and health clinics, the kind of infrastructure needed in order to get jobs other than farming coffee. After all, given that theres an oversupply of coffee on the world market, one would expect that farmers would move out of the movement. The reason that most dont is because they have no other options.

Many people at Brandeis have expressed concern about the impacts of Fair Trade coffee on farmers who arent Fair Trade certified. When more people buy Fair Trade coffee, the Fairtrade Labelling Organization can certify more farmers as Fair Trade. This means that, when more people buy Fair Trade coffee, some growers also leave the non-Fair Trade market, so there shouldnt be any substantial impact on the price that other farmers are paid for their coffee.

Long term, the fact that many Fair Trade farmers children are likely to move to cities and get jobs, rather than farming, means that Fair Trade will help eradicate the world coffee crisis, which will help even those farmers who arent Fair Trade certified.

Along with the issue of payment, farmers must show that they do not discriminate against women or use child labor in order to become Fair Trade certified. Also, Fair Trade coffee is shade grown and most of it is organic, so it is also environmentally friendly.

Fair Trade coffee isnt going to have a big impact on any of our lives. But it makes a big difference for farmers across the world struggling to survive.

Please vote in favor of next weeks referendum.