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A fair trade

The Norman Transcript

A group of Norman residents are organizing to promote something near to their hearts: Fair trade.

“It is our obligation to do what is right, not only for ourselves but for our environment and for marginalized farmers and workers,” said Ajit Bhand, a math instructor at the University of Oklahoma.

Earlier this year, Bhand founded Norman Fair Trade, an action group that promotes fair trade products and raises awareness about fair trade. The group aims to help Norman become an official Fair Trade Town.

Fair trade products use equitable principals at every level of production, including paying living wages, prohibiting child labor and cutting out exploitative dealers.

Fair trade products can advertise the fact with photos and stories on the packaging or unobtrusively list their certification.

Those interested in tasting fair trade products may go to a tasting 3-5 p.m. today at Native Roots Market, 132 W. Main St. The free trial of fair trade coffee, chocolate and tea is just one of the many events Norman Fair Trade is hosting during Fair Trade Month in October.

Norman Fair Trade started just this year. Ajit Bhand formed the group after he heard the news this year that San Francisco became the seventh city in the U.S. to attain to Fair Trade status.

“So that sort of began the goal of making Norman the Fair Trade city,” Bhand said. “And I thought, why not here?”

For Norman to become a Fair Trade Town, a range of fair trade products must be available locally, local organizations must use fair trade products, the campaign for fair trade has to attract media attention and public support and the city council must pass a resolution supporting fair trade and committing to serve fair trade coffee and tea at municipal meetings.

A local fair trade steering committee also must be formed to promote fair trade, and that’s where Bhand has started.

The steering committee is made up of seven and about 35 people have signed up on their mailing list. Norman Fair Trade draws people from several other activist organizations, faith-based groups, individuals and businesses, Bhand said, to “build the fair trade movement together.”

Cindy Woods got involved because she worked with the ONE Campaign on the OU campus. The One Campaign is circulating a petition to OU President David Boren for OU to serve only fair trade certified coffee.

In order to be certified fair trade by TransFair USA, a product has to be equitable and fair at every level of the product chain.

“It makes it a lot easier for the customer to make sure it supports ethics and morals,” Sarah Whitten said about the certification. Whitten is an OU student who is a member of the Norman Fair Trade steering committee.

To be a fair trade certified product, the product must be purchased from the producers at a fair price, including a living wage and access to pre-harvest credit. The product also is sold in international markets directly by the producer, cutting out the often-exploitative middle man.

The fair trade product also must use smart farming principles that are environmentally sustainable.

It also must have safe and respectable work environment, which includes no child labor. There also is a fair trade premium built in that provides money for community building projects in addition to the fair price for the goods. Many fair trade cooperatives use the money to build roads or schools.

“You’re not just giving a farmer more money, you’re helping his children, his future,” Woods said.

Those are real people who will be affected by the purchases consumers make in the U.S.

“Sometimes we actually forget that something was made by real people,” Bhand said.

So the members of Norman Fair Trade have a lot of motivation to promote fair trade. During fair trade month, they have hosted tastings and documentary screenings. Friday, members will bike around Norman to Reverse Trick-or-Treat. Instead of asking for candy at doors, they will hand out fair trade chocolate along with information about fair trade.

In the future, the group members will continue to host educational events and try to make people more aware of fair trade. If people know about it, they are more likely to help, said Claire Malone, a member of Norman Fair Trade.

She said many people just don’t know what fair trade is. She urged Normanites to make a difference with their purchases, to “vote with your dollar.”

Members of Norman Fair Trade have high hopes for the city to become a Fair Trade town.

“Norman is a progressive community dedicated to sustainability and green living,” Bhand said.

Those who would like to get involved with Norman Fair Trade may visit http://fairtradenorman.blogspot.com or e-mail fairtradenorman@gmail.com. Or they may attend one of the committee meetings 7 p.m. Monday at Cafe Plaid, 333 W. Boyd St.

Even though it may seem a small step, purchasing fair trade products can have a big impact, Malone said.

And the City of Norman as a whole can make an even greater difference. What if every cup of coffee consumed in Norman were fair trade certified, Malone asked.

“Imagine how many people that could help, how many communities,” she said.

The benefits of fair trade truly outweigh the extra cost the products sometimes are to the end consumer, Bhand said. What is worth more: the increase in price here in the U.S., or the independence and value that will be felt by a worker paid a fair price, he asked.

“By making Norman a Fair Trade City,” Bhand said. “We can strengthen our commitment towards fairness, social responsibility and environmental sustainability.”

Julianna Parker 366-3541 jparker@normantranscript.com

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