MC Celebrates National Fair Trade Month

by, Shannon Gleba and Jilleen Barrett, Copy Editor & Asst. A&E Editor

The month of October is National Fair Trade month, and Manhattan College is showing its commitment to the cause by continuing programming and the sale of fair trade products. Fair Trade promotes products in developed countries being sold at a price that is fair to those who produce them in developing countries.

Fair Trade first came to the college after Lois Harr, assistant vice president of Campus Ministry and Social Action, traveled to Ecuador on a L.O.V.E. Trip run by CMSA where she learned about the importance of buying products produced by those earning living wages in an ethical manner.

Harr then attended a conference in Boston alongside a number of students, including many members of the club Just Peace. The group became interested in bringing Fair Trade to campus, and they began the process of doing so in around 2010.

“We found out about [the Fair Trade certification] by about 2010 and 2011, I suppose,” Harr said. “And we went to their list and we said, you know, except for them saying so we pretty much are a fair trade campus because we’re doing all those things. We just haven’t gotten their stamp of approval.”

In 2012, the certification that made MC the first official Fair Trade college in New York City became official, and the group celebrated this accomplishment.

“We had a big celebration in the atrium downstairs in [Café 1853] … the president came, someone from Catholic Relief Services was there … and I’m always proud to say the original [certificate] hangs in the president’s dining room at the college,” Harr said.

There are a number of requirements that an institution must follow in order to remain considered a Fair Trade college.

“You have to have this steering committee, this group of people meets regularly and plans the events and plans the educational and [promotes] awareness and makes sure that your retailers are selling stuff right,” Harr said.

Since then, the Fair Trade commitment has grown on MC’s campus, and the dining hall and campus shops are willing to sell products that are Fair Trade certified.

Anabelle Chiaravalle, senior environmental science major, is currently acting as Fair Trade Assistant through campus employment after being introduced through the Catholic Relief Services last year. 

“I was really excited to start this position because I knew how important Fair Trade is for me and our campus,” Chiaravelle said. “Fair Trade is an organization that favors developing countries in order for them to maintain good trading techniques with developed countries, in developing countries producers are faced with inhumane working conditions and unfair wages. The organization certifies products that have been ethically made.”

Chiaravelle works alongside Casey Monroe, the graduate assistant for the Office of Campus Ministry and Social Action on a number of events and initiatives to keep the community involved in the effort. In the upcoming weeks, CMSA will be hosting a Fair Trade Festival on the quadrangle. CMSA plans to get other organizations involved in the facilitation of the festival, including clubs focused on helping the environment.

“The first two hours on the quad will basically be games and free samples of fair trade items and more information about fair trade on the quad,” Monroe said. “And then we’re also going to try to see if we can get people to have like mini socially distant picnics, on the quad as well. Just because we want as many people to be, you know, in the same realm of good positive vibes and learning more about their trade.”

The last hour of the event will include clearing the college’s rooftop garden and preparing to plant vegetables once the weather turns in the springtime.

Chiaravelle hopes that the Fair Trade Festival, alongside the other events planned for this month on campus, will encourage students to think critically about the products they buy, and the industries that they support.

 “Fair trade is so important in this aspect because it’s more than just a country problem, it’s a human’s rights and equality problem that ties into our daily lives and reflects who we are as people,” Chiaravelle said.

Further, Chiaravelle feels it is necessary to acknowledge where a product comes from and who makes it, as becoming more aware could help change the harmful treatment of workers.

 “Supporting Fair Trade isn’t just supporting an economic movement for companies, it’s about the treatment of people,” she said. As consumers, we have the power to choose where we buy our products from and that determines who we are supporting in the process. People need to become more conscious of where they’re spending money, even if it means we have to make some sacrifices because our materialistic pleasures should not surpass the treatment of others.”