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UW students still working toward fair trade

The Daily of University of Washington

The third floor of Parrington Hall was transformed Saturday into a forum where speakers, scholars, activists, corporate representatives and community members sat down to discuss the challenges in implementing fair trade. The two-day conference was sponsored by the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs and more than 20 speakers and six sessions on a variety of topics.

Freshman Lauren Currin attended the forum “After the WTO: Fair Trade Organizing in the Pacific Northwest” to hear speakers discuss local grassroots movements. She became interested in fair trade practices after taking an introduction to globalization course.

Currin said she is passionate about fair trade because “it is a perfect channel to address all of the serious issues that are being overlooked in regards to social and environmental injustices.”

A common misconception about the free trade certification, according to Transfair USA, a nonprofit organization that certifies coffee, is that the only requirement is a fair price. Fair trade certification also requires fair labor conditions, direct trade, democratic organizations, community development and environmental sustainability for products to don the coveted badge.

Guadalupe Gamboa, a program officer for workers rights at the nonprofit organization Oxfam America, focused on unfair labor practices in the Washington State apple industry.

“For every $1 apple that is sold, the workers get paid just 8 cents,” he said. An improvement in wages has been his biggest fight since he began working with farm workers in the state.

Gamboa believes a future collaboration of organizations and academia will greater challenge the corporations.

“If we could combine fair trade with CSSR standards and get academia working with these organizations, we could have a real movement,” he explained to the crowd of 35 people.

Ultimately, consumers make the final decision with their purchasing power, Gamboa said.

Currin drastically changed her typical consumer habits, choosing to buy fair trade and purchasing only used clothes.

“Once you have the knowledge of how corrupt and exploitative the process is, it’s so in-your-face,” she said, explaining the moral conscience that now holds her accountable in her purchases.

For Currin, it’s worth the extra cost of a product to support a Guatemalan farmer instead of corporate elites.

“If you go to the grocery store and choose to buy coffee that isn’t fair trade certified, you can be sure that those farmers aren’t getting paid a fair wage and their farming practices are detrimental to the environment.”


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