Coffee, chocolate and apparel all have one thing in common – they are all made in a factory, often not operating under fair trade conditions. CSU students in the Fair Trade University Club are seeking to change that.
“Fair trade means that you source from a developing country that has a good environmental social regulations,” said Lindsey Earl, a senior environmental sociology major. “It is a niche market for ethical consumerism.”
Earl started the club, Fair Trade University, spring semester of 2013 and it currently has eight members. Fair Trade University has a twofold mission statement: to educate students and faculty about what fair trade is and also implement fair trade products to CSU to give students and faculty options with their purchases.
To become a Fair Trade University, CSU would need five badges. Currently, with the fair trade club, stores on campus that sell two or more fair trade products and hosting fair trade events on campus, CSU has three of those five.
In order to be recognized as a fair trade university, CSU still needs to sell products internally that are fair trade and sign a resolution committing to fair trade.
“I think the university is nervous to do it because it means that people can hold them to it,” Earl said.
Fair Trade University recently teamed up with the CSU bookstore to unveil a brand called Alta Gracia, a sweatshop turned fair trade apparel company in the Dominican Republic.
“The company starts as a grassroots movement within the college and the students have to rise up and demand Alta Gracia apparel,” Earl said. “Whether it’s the bookstore manager or the president of the university, they source Alta Gracia when there’s been a movement within the student body.”
Acording to John Parry, the CSU bookstore director, even though the university is fully behind the cause, sales have not been as high as hoped.
“Knowledge is the hardest thing, getting people excited and interested in a product,” Parry said. “If people really hear and understand the story behind it, they have more interest in it.”
On a personal level, Earl makes an attempt to purchase her clothes from places she knows are fair trade, but it is not always simple, especially when companies claiming to be ‘fairer than fair trade’ are really green-washing, spinning their products to seem more environmentally and socially friendly.
“What I always tell people is to always think about what you’re doing before you make that decision to buy it,” Earl said.
Earl makes an attempt to buy from thrift stores or consign, often cutting the tag off items that have a brand she knows is from a sweatshop.
“If you wear something that has that brand name, you are supporting their marketing and saying you like their clothing, it’s telling other people that you vote for that,” Earl said.
Earl recognized the university’s engagement in the cause, both with Alta Gracia apparel, and as one of the top universities in fair trade research.
Laura Reynolds is a sociology professor and co-director of the Center for Fair and Alternative Trade, a fair trade research orientated groups at CSU. Reynolds researches fair trade coffee, banana and Rooibos tea in South Africa. Reynolds has promoted Alta Gracia apparel at the university.
“The effort this is going on now is more of an activist oriented group to promote the availability of fair trade products at CSU and try to build an institutional commitment at the university,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds noted the efforts from CSU are not independent, but are apart of a larger effort from more than 400 universities and colleges.
“CSU has been crazy supportive. I think that it’s something the university has never been opposed to; there just hasn’t been a student organization to demand it yet. We’re kind of filling that gap,” Earl said.
The club, which has students from international studies, business and sociology backgrounds, meets near Sweet Sinsations in the Behavioral Sciences Building at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays.
“Fair trade impacts the communities here. But the bigger impact is on the developing communities where the factories have been transformed,” Earl said.
Collegian Diversity Beat Reporter Hannah Hemperly can be reached at email@example.com.