College students have a lot on their plates: expanding their brains, staying on top of schoolwork and balancing jobs with social lives. It can all be a lot of pressure.
If you feel like myself and many of us in Fair Trade University feel, adding the pressure of more education to your regular shopping can feel overwhelming. In my classes at CSU I’ve learned of the horrors of food miles, the tragedy of industrial agriculture, the secrecy behind sweatshops, the social problems with waste and how I am perpetuating it all by being a typical American consumer.
Perhaps these class experiences don’t translate to all students, but higher education almost always guarantees that you’ve learned something about our society that you would not have known, or wanted to know, otherwise. A friend and I compared shopping with our new knowledge to an ethical pop quiz.
When shopping, do you care more about cost or method of production? Organic or local? Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance? Do you trust those labels? Can you afford them? It is difficult to balance our values and education, with our personal limitations.
In Fair Trade University we believe in shopping conscientiously no matter what the circumstance, in recognizing that when you buy, you vote. Choosing to buy Chiquita bananas may fulfill your need to have a cheap contribution to a balanced healthy breakfast, but it is also a symbolic show of support for free trade laws that create freakish low market prices for bananas, which inhibit the wages paid to workers.
It may be a show of support to improperly applied pesticides and fungicides, to child labor, or corporate greed. That is why we believe in fair trade. There may be criticisms for the system, that there are too many standards, that there aren’t enough standards, that there is corruption, or that it is inefficient. To all of that I say, “It’s better than nothing.”
Certification by independent parties of fair and healthy working practices and wages is something I am willing to pay for despite the minor flaws in the fair trade system. When I can, I buy fair trade, because I believe in bananas for breakfast and people getting paid properly for growing them.
Buying Dole bananas does not make you a bad person, we all have done it, or still do it, but buying Chiquita bananas with ethically-oriented knowledge, and accepting it as “just the way it is” can make your actions morally questionable. I’m not saying that everyone can afford fair trade bananas, I’m saying they should be asking, “why can’t I afford it?” “Why isn’t that a choice for me in the store, or on campus?” “Why shouldn’t there be demand for these products, so that I can rest assured as a consumer that I can afford products that are made ethically?”
I’m saying this as your peer. People, things are messed up; let’s do something about it. If you care at all about human rights, democracy and the power of the people, then you should care about fair trade, and getting involved and making the best consumer decisions that you can.
Christina Swope is a senior sociology major.