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Fair Trade Brigade member explains coffee sales

By Daniel Duffy

Section: News

October 7, 2005

Over the past year, the Fair Trade Brigade has encouraged the Brandeis administration, Aramark and the rest of the schools student body to make a complete switch to Fair Trade Coffee sales and consumption. In our effort to push this change, several potential problems have been brought up by those concerned with possible unintended consequences of a complete switchover, so Id like to address some of the ones that Ive heard often.

A lot of students are concerned that there might not be any choice if we switch over to Fair Trade Coffee. In reality, though, students dont have much of a choice of what coffees are sold now. While we had come away with the understanding that Aramark would be offering a wider range of Fair Trade Coffee following our discussions with them this spring, it now seems as if there are even fewer options of Fair Trade Coffee, usually one at any given time, at most.

We dont wish to take away any choice, but instead to make the actual choice more democratic. We want the students to choose, but we do not wish to persuade hesitant students to set aside their principles to do so. We believe that many people are probably hesitant to choose fair trade because they just dont know enough about it to make a full endorsement, and that once they do know they will probably choose fair trade. It is difficult to believe that many people would be opposed to its sale on campus once they knew more about the product. Fair trade guarantees farmers in Central America and across the developing world the chance to build roads, schools and medical clinics in their communities. In this way, these farmers will have better lives and, because theyll be able to do other jobs in more developed economies, Fair Trade Coffee will also help to eliminate the glut in coffee on the world market. This is the kind of choice most Brandeis students want to make.

Some people, though, have worried that fair trade coffee runs counter to the principles of free trade, which are valued by many at Brandeis. An oppositional dichotomy of fair trade vs. free trade is a fallacy;

fair trade certified coffee is, in fact, freely traded and succeeds through consumer choice, not through tariffs or anything of the sort. Other specialty coffees and environmentally friendly coffees that no one thinks of as anything but free trade coffees end up being the same price and in the same niche as Fair Trade Coffee.
With fair trade there are no formal regulations on production, consumption or competition between companies. The general fair trade niche market is based on the same laws of market demand as free trade. It is not that regulations are imposed on companies to get the Fair Trade label, but rather that companies voluntarily seek certification through the organization TransFair USA. This organization ensures that farmers are paid at least $1.26/lb. (compared to as little as $0.20/lb. on the world market), are organized in democratic collectives and grow their coffee in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner. There is no real regulation here, other than the regulations that companies impose on themselves.

At the same time, a good deal of what we call free trade is in reality full of regulations, oftentimes to the benefit of only a few in the first world and to the ruin of the developing world. In many ways fair trade is a freer version of what we call free trade. There are no clear ways to delineate fair trades boundaries to define it as something other than free trade. Thus those who praise the virtues of the free market should not hesitate to embrace Fair Trade Coffee. At first it may not smell like the free market. The missing ingredients are greed and an unrestrained drive for profit.

Finally, many students have been concerned that, were Brandeis to switch completely to Fair Trade Coffee, their favorite flavors of coffee would disappear. Luckily, that wont be the case. In the immediate term, a hazelnut blend and other favorite flavors are available through Java Citys Fair Trade certified and Eco-Grounds coffee lines. So, the only ones that we would no longer have would be seasonal flavors rarely offered anyway. And, in the longer run, Aramark could switch to Pura Vida or one of many other companies that focuses on fair trade certified coffee so that wed have not only all of the flavors regularly offered now, but other ones as welland every single cup would be Fair Trade.

Unlike what many people perceive, however, a complete switchover to Fair Trade Coffee is by no means a done deal yet. In late October or early November, theres going to be an official student body referendum on switching to Fair Trade Coffee. Im sure that I can speak for the entire Fair Trade Brigade when I say that were very appreciative of all the support that weve gotten from the rest of the student body so far, but we really need a months more help to finish the work that weve started. If youre interested in learning more about Fair Trade go to www.transfairusa.org, or, to find out more about Fair Trade at Brandeis, e-mail ftd@lists.brandeis.edu and well do our best to fill you in right away.

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