The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

'A voice for the voiceless'
Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
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Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Are we really for Fair Trade?


The precarious state of our certification

St. Joe’s became the 20th school in the country to be certified as a Fair Trade University by Fair Trade Campaigns in the spring of 2014. With the support of our former president, a resolution from Student Senate and a commitment from student groups across the university, we showed solidarity “with and for” farmers who live in poverty.

In essence, the goal of fair trade is to cut out the middlemen in the supply chain so that farmers can receive more income from coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, and over two thousand other products. 

Research shows that fair trade works. In addition to higher pay, many of these farmers receive access to health care and report being able to keep their kids in school longer because of fair trade.

These benefits are essential because the situation many small-scale farmers face is often dire as they are at the whim of international commodity prices that fluctuate wildly.

In 2001, for instance, the price of coffee plummeted to about 42 cents a pound – a 30 year low. This contributed to mass migrations in Latin America from rural to urban areas, widespread malnutrition, food insecurity and a significant growth in the homeless population throughout coffee-growing regions. Becoming a Fair Trade University meant that we wanted to be part of the solution to these problems.

Since we became a fair trade university, I have traveled with over 40 students and members of St. Joe’s community to live alongside fair trade coffee farmers in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

The experience has been transformative for many of us. A handful of students have traveled back to Latin America to visit these same families and to make new connections with other fair traders.

Some graduates are currently working on sustainable agriculture initiatives in the U.S. and Latin America, while others are active in food justice movements and one is importing fair trade coffee from the cooperative we visited to support a non-profit organization.

All are much more in tune with where our food comes from.  Unfortunately, however, support for fair trade in our dining facilities is wavering.

St. Joe’s students and I have met with representatives from Aramark and members of the administration every semester since 2014 to make sure that we are committed to fair trade. As part of the certification, Aramark agreed to provide two fair trade options in every dining facility across campus.

This benchmark has not been met in any semester during the last three years. This is especially frustrating since many other Aramark universities have had no problem meeting (and greatly exceeding!) these minimum standards.

In September and again in January of this year, we were again promised that St. Joe’s would provide two fair trade options everywhere we eat on campus. Our audit of campus dining facilities from the week of Feb. 19 showed that only the declining balance (DB) side of Campion met this standard. The library, Starbucks, Mandeville and Bellarmine had no fair trade options whereas Einstein Bros. Bagels and the dining hall in Campion each had one.

Further, the recent article in The Hawk from Feb. 14 about the changing coffee menu at Einstein’s did not mention fair trade. This could be because there is no longer any fair trade coffee in Merion Hall.

I have spent over 15 years learning, researching, writing, and teaching about fair trade. I know that fair trade is not a perfect solution to global poverty. But I am also certain that fair trade is significantly better than conventional trade.

In 2014-15 alone, farmers received well over 200 million dollars from fair trade premiums through Fair Trade International and Fair Trade USA.

Fair Trade is a sustainable form of economic development that provides economic, environmental, health, and educational benefits for farmers and their families. It forces us to think about where the goods we buy come from and it aligns perfectly with St Joe’s Jesuit ideals. So let’s not lose a chance to make a difference.

Make your voice heard on this issue at St. Joe’s, and let us avoid becoming the first university in the country to lose our Fair Trade certification.

Keith Brown, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Sociology.

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