Fair Trade Promotes Fair Farming


Recently, free Fair Trade coffee, chocolate and stickers made an appearance right outside of Thomas Hall. While the school routinely touts its status as the first school in New York to be labeled Fair Trade and the fifth school in the nation, some students may not know what this distinction means.

According to the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, “Fairtrade is an alternative approach to conventional trade and is based on a partnership between producers and consumers.

“When farmers can sell on Fairtrade terms, it provides them with a better deal and improved terms of trade. This allows them the opportunity to improve their lives and plan for their future. Fairtrade offers consumers a powerful way to reduce poverty through their every day shopping.”

To simplify it, Lois Harr, the director of Campus Ministry and Social Action on campus said, “It’s an overall system of trade that seeks to treat all parties fairly – especially the farmer or producer whose work creates and provides the goods.  It’s about economic justice.”

What does this mean for Manhattan College? “It recognizes what Catholic Social Teaching holds – every economic choice is a moral choice. It means that we are committed to helping our students and our campus community become ‘conscious consumers,’” Harr said.

“For me, this means that we pursue a very concrete way of living and demonstrating our Catholic Lasallian values –especially concern for the poor and social justice.”

Students may have noticed the Fairtrade bananas in Locke’s this month. More food and beverages around campus are Fairtrade than students may think. When a product on or off campus carries the “Fairtrade” mark, this means the producers and traders make sure the product has met the Fairtrade Standards.

The Fairtrade standards are designed to eliminate the injustices of the conventional trading ways. If a coffee farmer works on his own land and sells his coffee to a roaster through his own co-op, he will receive the current market price, regardless if the Fairtrade minimum price is lower.

Students who order an Italian Roast from Starbucks, or Farmers Brothers in Cafe 1853, are supporting Fairtrade without even realizing it.

“Back home in California, my family was all for Fairtrade,” freshman Erin Garcia said. “I never really understood the purpose of purchasing Fairtrade until coming to Manhattan. Being on my own, I realized purchasing Fairtrade is easier than everyone thinks. And not only does it help the farmers, it’s just another way that I can contribute to making the world a better place.”

As a Fairtrade school, Manhattan College agrees that all of its on-campus retail outlets, including Cafe 1853, the bookstore and Starbucks must sell at least two Fairtrade products. This means that the retail outlets on campus handle the contracting, purchasing and selling of these products.

Along with that, Harr also sells Jasper Java, a Fairtrade coffee and hot chocolate straight from her office in Miguel. With Manhattan being a Fairtrade school, Harr also added, “It also means that we have to do consistent and continual education about  Fair Trade around campus – so that’s why we had the bracelet making, the coffee break and why we’re having an ice cream social on Oct. 28 – all to promote awareness.”

Last semester, Fairtrade USA created a March Madness Fairtrade bracket for which colleges that did the most Fairtrade, and Manhattan College won.

“I feel with Manhattan being a Fairtrade school, we aren’t wasting money and buying in bulk,” freshman Tom Englert said.

“We’re still paying the market price, just buying straight from the farmer. This gives us premium quality goods that don’t only benefit us, but also the farmers and workers. It seems fair on both parties, so why not do it? We’re buying smart and giving back at the same time.”