Fighting for fair trade

A group of students is trying to get ASU to move toward fair trade products

Be a conscious consumer

Whether it’s an 8 a.m. wake-me-up or a 2 a.m. caffeine fix, coffee is an unwavering necessity for many college students. Since coffee is a staple in so many consumers' lives, many coffee drinkers are beginning to question where their precious study aid came from, or rather, if they should care. 

While most will be quick to dismiss these thoughts, ASU students Mackenzie Masel, Daniella Simari, Hannah Trigg and Sydney Williamson have founded the ASU Fair Trade Campaign as a means to educate their community on the importance of being a conscious consumer and purchasing through certified fair trade businesses. 

The term “fair trade” is tossed around every now and again, but most lack a proper understanding of the term and the issues surrounding it. Fair trade is a non-compulsory program that creates many opportunities for non-corporate farmers or other typically disadvantaged producers. Programs like these are dedicated to ensuring that the quality of life for those who produce a product is not disparaged by those who consume it.

“Students who love coffee, chocolate or any other kind of snack should check to see if there are fair trade certified varieties of them on campus,” says Williamson, an ASU senior studying Japanese and sustainability. “If they purchase their favorite snack that happens to be fair trade, they are helping save lives overseas while still enjoying a quality product.”

While it seems like a no-brainer to choose the ethically sourced product, the issue that many college students face is the lack of options on campus. The Fair Trade Campaign at ASU is working toward getting ASU certified as a fair trade campus so that students can have more freedom with their purchasing habits.

“Many students are conscious consumers that appreciate the opportunity to purchase, say, a chocolate bar in which the farmers received fair wages, the environment was protected during the process, and there was no child labor involved,” Trigg says. “It is a win-win for both the producer and the customer.”

The campaign and its goals

While there are more than 5,000 universities in the United States, only 47 of them have been certified as fair trade campuses, according to the Fair Trade Campaign's website. Committing to fair trade education is only one of the four tasks ASU needs to accomplish before it can be officially certified.

“Each university campaign needs to complete milestones, including: committing to fair trade education on campus, building a team with active members, advocating for at least two fair trade products in every P.O.D. market and dining hall on all four campuses, and passing a Fair Trade Resolution signed by the University's president,” says Simari, a conservation biology and ecology major at ASU and the campaign's vice president, in an email. 

"The resolution is on Michael Crow's desk as we speak," Trigg says. "Once he signs the resolution, we will officially be considered a Fair Trade University, the largest one in the nation."

The next step for these students is to grow their team and reach out to local fair trade vendors and food service providers to get their products on campus.

“As a small group of dedicated students, we are constantly on the search for opportunities to expand our outreach and collaboration with fellow students,” Williamson says. “If there are students who feel passionate about fair trade out there, we would love to get to know them and have them join our team.” 

While a large emphasis has been placed on spreading the message to college students, the fair trade movement does not stop at college campuses. According to the campaign website, the mission is to "[g]row a nationwide community of passionate, lifelong fair trade advocates." This includes schools, congregations and entire towns committing to fair trade policies.

Stella Atzenweiler

Economic boundaries

Being a conscious consumer is vital in creating sustainable markets. The Fair Trade Campaign at ASU encourages students to take their purchasing habits off campus with them and seek how they can become ethical shoppers in day-to-day life. 

“One of our favorite cafes is Fair Trade Cafe,” Masel says. “They sell delicious fair trade, locally roasted coffee.”

Fair Trade Cafe is a popular destination for many Downtown campus students because of its convenient location. According to its website, Fair Trade Cafe’s business model is “to bring direct and fair trade, organic coffee to the Downtown Phoenix Art District and to the Downtown Core.” Gail Sowers, one of the cafe's managers, says it's important for students to support businesses with similar models. 

“While we prepare a lot of our baked products in store, we make sure to purchase as much of our goods locally as we can,” says Sowers. “It is important for students to support business that source locally because they are putting money back into the same economy that is funding their education.”

One of the challenges that faces Fair Trade Cafe and other businesses looking to follow a similar model is the expense that comes with having their products sourced ethically. The current fair trade price is well above non-ethically sourced coffee. This high cost of inventory results in an inflated price tag which is not very appealing to many, especially college students.

With a growing number of universities joining the fair trade movement, more students will become educated on the social and economic issues that go along with their beloved cup of coffee, chocolate bar or other favorite snack. As this knowledge becomes more accessible and mainstream, the campaign hopes it will be enough incentive for consumers to pay a little extra to ensure a decent quality of life for all those who created their product. 

The University has not yet responded to a request for comment. 

For more information on the Fair Trade Campaign or to track ASU’s progress, visit the website.

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