Campus-wide forum addresses Fair Trade

By Robert Riches
November 14, 2012

How free free trade really is was among the multitude of topics discussed at a town-hall style forum conducted by the College.

The forum, moderated by Executive Director of the Wolfington Center John Burke, was an interesting way to garner viewpoints on the alternative economic model from students as well as faculty.

“Fair trade does the job [in reducing global poverty] but so does the free market,” Dr. Joloyn Girard, professor emeritus of history and political science, said. “The free market does it more effectively.”

Girard made the argument that there is no true way to prove that farmers and artisans around the world are really benefitting from the additional pay and benefits that Fair Trade is supposed to provide.

Drew Niemann, general manager for the College’s dining services, countered Girard by recalling a story from several years ago about what he learned from sitting in a class taught by Dr. Jerome Zurek. Zurek had brought a farmer in from Guatemala and he was talking about how Fair Trade had helped his co-operative earn an additional 21 cents per pound of coffee farmed.

“Globally, we can’t know what goes on everywhere, but it can be pointed out,” Niemann said. “You can’t prove that dollars are going anywhere, but you can be assured that people are OK.”

Junior business administration major Adriana Rizzuto also noted an experience she had with meeting an Ecuadorian farmer in Chicago, Ill. who said that it was “great” to be nourished by the chain of command that Fair Trade offers.

Assistant Professor of Business Erin McLaughlin defended fair trade, citing that governing bodies such as the Fair Trade Labeling Organization  provide transparency, as they let consumers know where their products come from. While McLaughlin was in fair trade’s corner, she also presented several cons, such as problems with corruption in government as well as the shortened supply chain.

“Everything is not perfect, but it’s an alternative model,” Dr. McLaughlin said.

Students also enjoyed the chance to hear answers to any questions that they may have had.

“I feel like if people needed clarification on anything, then they definitely got something out of it and definitely got their questions answered,” junior secondary education major Alyssa Moyer said.

“Most of the people here work on Cabrini becoming a Fair Trade University, so I really do hope for that in the future.”

Fair Trade University status is a way for a college or university to prove that they are truly committed to the use of fair trade products and implementation of fair trade principles. It is a title that the College has been seeking for several years now.

“I hope that we as a campus can look at Fair Trade University status, see if it’s a good fit and move forward if we agree that it is,” McLaughlin said.

Perhaps the most important note that was left was one of Dr. Girard’s remarks on how we should all form our own opinions and try to get the bigger picture about fair trade.

“Don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” Girard said. “As teachers, we encourage to not follow one specific pattern, but rather look at a variety of patterns.”

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Robert Riches

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