The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

University should copy UW-Oshkosh

Renee Rosenow

What will you spend $2 on today? Maybe a couple of Snickers bars from the vending machine? Splitting a pitcher of beer with friends on Water Street? Maybe both?

According to the 2008 World Development Report, almost half of the world’s entire population (2.7 billion people) lives on less than $2 every day.

Imagine trying to feed your family with $2. I can’t even feed myself for a few hours with that, much less a spouse and several children for an entire day. What about keeping them warm, giving them shelter, clothing them and providing them with clean water and education?

Those things – the essentials – cost more than $2 per day, even in the countries with the lowest living costs. So how is it fair that I could work a shift at McDonald’s and theoretically walk away with about $50, while it would take a month of back-breaking, physical labor for a migrant worker to make the same?

Story continues below advertisement

It’s not.

And how is it fair that for every $3 latte you buy from an average coffeehouse, the farmers who harvested your beans earn two cents?

It’s not.

And that’s where fair trade comes in. Fair trade is exactly what it sounds like – trading at a price that’s fair for everyone, including the consumer and the producer. Fair trade principles ensure that as many money-grabbing middlemen are cut from the equation as possible. That way, workers are paid fair wages according to their cost of production and living (not ours), and customers don’t have to pay the difference. Fair trade evens the playing field to allow the most vulnerable business members to compete in the global market, but it’s about much more than price.

According to Transfair USA, fair trade certification supports farmers, allowing them to enjoy fair labor conditions and abolish child labor. Fair trade allows farmers to decide how to invest revenue, some of which returns to the community in the form of scholarship programs, improvement training and organic certification. Fair trade allows them to advance environmental sustainability and worker health through banning the use of genetically modified organisms and harmful chemicals.

But wait, what about American producers? Buying foreign products means you can’t buy them from Americans, right? And that means we’re turning our backs on our own producers, right? Well, not really.

According to Transfair USA, fair trade certification is only available in the United States for many items we don’t even specialize in producing – coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice and vanilla. We already rely on Third World countries with warmer climates to supply us with the majority of those goods. According to Global Exchange, Americans consume a fifth of the entire world’s coffee, most of which is supplied by developing nations.

Fair trade doesn’t mean we start giving handouts. Fair trade applies to that same cliché of teaching a person to fish – all it does is give farmers in developing nations the ability to support themselves so they can continue to provide us with the products we want and succeed economically. Everyone wins.

UW-Oshkosh has set an admirable precedent as the first fair trade-certified university in the United States. By achieving fair trade university status, Oshkosh has publicly voiced its support of the fair trade movement and has promised to provide fair trade products whenever available and possible. This includes providing fair trade products at dining services, catered events, the campus bookstore and university offices. The university has also declared October as Fair Trade Month, hosting a variety of events and inviting fair trade experts to speak. To hold themselves accountable, Oshkosh officials will release an annual report self-evaluating their progress in expanding fair trade on campus.

Since Oshkosh is the first fair trade university in the nation, it had no American standard to follow, and instead turned to the United Kingdom, a leader in rallying for global fair trade. I just came back from studying abroad this spring at the University of Winchester, southwest of London. While I was there, they also achieved fair trade university status.

It seemed like fair trade items were all over campus. I couldn’t have hid from it if I tried. Our bookstore sold fair trade hoodies; our student café offered very few products that weren’t fair trade or otherwise supported Africa; and as part of their “Fair Trade Fortnight,” students hosted fair trade artisan sales, fair trade coffee farmers visited from Mexico and Uganda, our canteen’s (cafeteria’s) chefs hosted a fair-trade cookoff . every day provided a new schedule of cool events.

It seemed like everybody wanted in on the campaign. Winchester’s message was so straightforward and uplifting that I was proud to be one of its students for the few months I was there. Every single time I bought fair trade coffee at our campus café, I kicked myself knowing that UW-Eau Claire could and should be doing the same thing. When I returned, it was nice to see that we began offering fair trade coffee through Green Mountain. But we can do so much more to prove that we’re serious – as Oshkosh has. From what I can tell, enough people care. Given the opportunity, I think more students would realize supporting fair trade is a small and easy way to make the world a better place for everyone.

In their resolution released early September, Oshkosh called on other universities to follow its lead. Since UW-Eau Claire prides itself on excellence, I say we’re next. If you want our university to enhance its commitment to fair trade, contact a Student Senate representative, put together a petition, rally your friends together in a student organization, or write to Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich. I’ll help.

If Oshkosh can do it, so can we.

Boschma is a junior print journalism major and news editor for The Spectator.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

The Spectator intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. The Spectator does not allow anonymous comments and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
All The Spectator Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Activate Search
University should copy UW-Oshkosh