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Practical step against global poverty

Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Having heard the experts and depressing stats from the Notre Dame Forum on global health and poverty, the question remains what are we to do about it?

The Forum’s official Web site recommends reading Paul Farmer and Jeffrey Sachs’ latest books. I would like to suggest something far more concrete.

Though Dr. Sachs was correct in pointing out the limitation of markets for those so desperately poor that they cannot participate in them, he did not go far enough in his analysis of markets as mechanisms for human development. Contrary to what many of us have been told, markets are not universally good means to raise populations out of poverty and toward better health and prosperity.

Unfortunately, due to the ominous threat of falling back into destitution and the disproportionate power of large corporate and market forces, many small farmers and other workers – around the world – are kept in states of near indentured servitude by the very markets understood by many to be their saving grace.

We should all be more mindful of where our dollars go and what activities they support. The ties between our dollars and the lives of millions are far more real and powerful than you might think. What can the Notre Dame community, as a moral consumer, do?

Among many good options remains one simple and effective action: increase our commitment to fair trade products.

Many other campuses around the country, secular and religious, have done precisely this. Coffee is where this typically starts. Catholic Relief Services estimates that less than 2 cents of an average $1.50 cup of coffee reaches the farmer who grew the coffee. Under fair trade provisions farmers are guaranteed over one dollar a pound for their harvest. Notre Dame consumes over 35, 000 pounds of coffee a year, only a small part of it fair trade. We should do something about this.

A number of years ago, students worked to have fair trade coffee available on campus as a consumer choice. It’s time now to make a moral, rather than a market choice as the Notre Dame community. Let’s make the switch, collectively, to a better brew, so that we can do something everyday toward alleviating the world’s poverty/health crisis.

Christopher Morrissey

grad student