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Lecture emphasizes advantages of fair trade

Alicia Smith | Wednesday, April 28, 2010

 Fair trade does not just mean fair wages, John Taylor, a member of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), said Tuesday.

The lecture titled “A Piece of Fair Trade” focused on the benefits of fair trade among Central American countries.

The talk was held in Carroll Auditorium at Saint Mary’s. 
Taylor, along with fellow CRS member Jessica Howell, said fair trade is beneficial for impoverished nations.
Taylor said CRS began to assist refugees coming out of Europe in 1933. Today, CRS focuses on international aid and development. 
According to Taylor, CRS currently is working in over 100 countries throughout the world to promote fair trade.
Howell said fair trade is much more than just creating fair wages for small farmers.
“Fair trade ultimately is the realization that there’s a person behind every item that we purchase, and how we choose to buy that item affects that person in a positive or a negative way,” Howell said.
According to Taylor, free trade is far more complex than fair trade. Taylor explained the process of free, or conventional, trade in relationship to coffee farmers. Coffee farmers begin the process of free trade by producing coffee beans. The beans are then sent to intermediaries, who are responsible for negotiating the price with the farmer. Once the intermediaries agree on a price, the coffee beans are then taken to a processing mill. There, the hull of the bean is removed.
Taylor said the beans are sent to an exporter, who works to find a place to sell the beans. 
A broker then works with the exporter to connect with an importer, who brings the coffee beans to the roaster. After the beans are roasted, they are taken to a distributor, who ensures the beans are put in a store to be sold. A retailer then sells the beans to a consumer, and the revenue from the beans is distributed throughout each member of the chain.
Howell said the fair trade system is far less complex and provides more value to the products.
“What’s different about the fair trade system is that it’s added value,” Howell said.
According to Howell, fair trade also begins with the farmer. After the beans are raised, they are sent to a cooperative, which is a democratically run resource that allows the farmers to receive more money per pound of product. The beans are then taken to a processing mill and then sold to coffee companies. From there, consumers have the capability to purchase the product.
Taylor said typically, the goal for the consumer for any transaction is to pay as little as possible for the products purchased. However, in a fair trade system, consumers look at the wages that the producer will receive instead of the cost of the product.
“After all, the bottom line is to pay as little as possible, regardless of what the producers or the farmer gets out of it,” Taylor said.
Taylor also said there were five main principals in the fair trade system. Those principals include fair wages, cooperative workplaces, long-term relationships, good working conditions and environmental sustainability. 
“For each of us who have jobs, or for each of us who are working within a structure … we really care individually about each of these steps,” Taylor said.
“Fair trade is to make sure that these five principals are not shoved aside in order to provide the lowest price for the consumer,” he said.
Howell added that fair trade worked to strengthen communities by utilizing all of these principals.
“It’s pretty powerful to know that when you buy a cup of coffee, or a chocolate bar, or a handcraft that is fair trade certified, you know because there is a fair trade certification system that what you are buying with that money is again not just a living wage for someone, but that there is no exploitative child labor, no harsh environmental conditions,” Howell said. 
Additionally, Howell discussed the ways in which students can participate in the fair trade system.
Howell encouraged students to purchase fair trade products. Another way to become involved is to learn more about fair trade.
According to Howell, there are a variety of ways to encourage fair trade within local communities. Howell said to organize fair trade tastings, film nights or informational events. 
She also said selling fair trade products and hosting fair trade sales around holidays would be beneficial for fair trade communities.
Howell encouraged students to get involved in fair trade practices. Other ways students can become involved, Howell said, is to discuss fair trade with families and friends, change the purchasing practices of stores in the area and call on the College to provide fair trade products.