By Abraham Mahshie
It can cost as little as a penny more per cup of coffee to ensure that coffee growers in Mexico and Central America earn enough to support themselves and their families. Over the weekend, concerned students from across the Southwest gathered at Trinity University for the Southwest United Students for Fair Trade Conference to learn about issues of fair trade coffee, including ways to influence the United States' trade policy.
"We're always surrounded by all these issues and it's easy for students to get involved by buying fair trade coffee," explains Courtney Groom, a conference organizer who started a campaign at Trinity to bring fair trade coffee to Java City, the campus coffee shop. Groom also helped to promote a talk by an African coffee grower on campus last fall. "When students actually see someone benefiting their families from this cooperative, they go to Java City and think of fair trade coffee."
Brands like Green Mountain Coffee, Millstone, and Starbucks Fair Trade blend bear the fair trade certified label and pay a guaranteed $1.26 per pound to farm cooperatives - regardless of how low the world market price dips. This amount is as much as two to three times the going rate that other companies pay for coffee, and can help some of the 600,000 Central American farmers to stay on their land and continue to grow coffee.
In the U.S., 12 universities serve 100 percent fair trade coffee," says former San Antonian Xavier Benavides who works with Oxfam and trains students in activism. And the campus movement toward fair trade is growing: More than 300 campuses have fair trade movements.
"With the trade debate, it's always been framed as a debate for the experts with very complicated issues, rigorous economic theory, and students as well as society are excluded from the debates," notes Wilson Pritchard of Global Justice in Washington, D.C., a small group of recent graduates working to promote its Trade Justice campaign.
Joe Campe, a senior at the University of Denver, says fair trade coffee on his campus has increased from one graduate café to 90 percent of the school. "There was a fragmented few people who knew about fair trade but no group pushing to get it," he said while sipping on a cup at a breakfast convened for the 39 students registered by Saturday.
Campe organized Students for Positive Social Change at Denver after attending a mobilization training week in Chicago sponsored by Oxfam America. Since then, he has taken his group to a coffee plantation in Nicaragua for an alternative spring break and 15 students made the two-day drive with him from Colorado to participate in the Trinity conference.
"The great thing about this conference is seeing students broaden their horizons outside of the Trinity bubble," explains Pamela Newman, a Trinity alumna who attended the conference. "It's not just four years here, it's the real world and your personal career." •