Sunday, October 23, 2005

Fair trade through coffee

It's time for the University of Washington to wake up and smell the Certified Fair Trade coffee. Seattle has the second-highest number of coffee shops per capita (2.2 shops per 10,000 people) in the US, and the UW has over 20 of these coffee hot spots on its campus alone. This means that within walking distance of class, UW students have the ability to affect social change through their daily cup o' joe.

Certified Fair Trade coffee encourages consumers to "look outside the cup", so to speak. It indicates a commitment to paying workers a fair price for the beans they grow, and recognizes that in many cases the livelihood of the community from which the beans came is dependent on the purchase of that cup of coffee. This is especially important since coffee is grown in the tropical and sub-tropical belt around the equator. This area includes countries facing the most severe economic development challenges. For example, in Guatemala where about 75 percent of the population is below the poverty line, more than 7 percent of the population is dependent on coffee for livelihood.

This summer, I had the opportunity to see first hand the importance of purchasing Certified Fair Trade coffee. I traveled with a group of 18 other UW students and one amazing UW professor through rural western Guatemala as part of a CHID Department Exploration Seminar. A portion of this trip was spent visiting Finca San Jeronimo, a conventional trade coffee farm.

At this farm, the workers lived in small shacks with dirt floors and no running water or electricity. Oftentimes, up to 20 people would live in the one-room houses and food was so scarce that the humble meal of beans, eggs and rolls we shared with them was seen as a luxury. There are 67 children between the 25 families who live at Finca San Jeronimo. Despite the fact that school only costs about $40 per year, the majority of these children are unable to attend because their families can barely afford to feed them.

And all this boils down to the price we are willing to pay for a cup of coffee. The average $3 latte delivers less than $0.02 back to the farmers on non-Fair Trade farms. Make that a Certified Fair Trade latte, and the farmers in the cooperative are able to earn 3 to 5 times more than they would receive by selling their coffee through conventional mechanisms. For a campus that consumes about 50,000 pounds of coffee a year, this means that we have the ability to affect social change on a global level simply by opting to buy Certified Fair Trade coffee.

So how do you like your social justice? I like mine with sugar and cream.


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