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UM Students attend Fair Trade Convergence

Montana Kaimin, MT

Seven University of Montana students returned to Missoula late Monday night after spending the weekend at the 2008 International Fair Trade Convergence in Seattle.

Students, employees, professors, vendors and others involved with the Fair Trade movement attended classes, lectures and workshops at the University of Washington during the conference. The United Students for Fair Trade, a national network of student organizations supporting fair trade, hosted the event. 

Fair trade is the promotion of fair prices and fair trade for products bought from economically deprived countries.

The workshops ranged from fair trade basic concepts to strategies, logistics and markets of the movement.

UM students have gone to other regional fair trade conferences, but never to an international one. It was easy to travel to this international conference because it was in Seattle, said Emily Schembra, a member of Students for Economic and Social Justice.

The UM Environmental Studies Department funded the trip.

UM students met and mingled with other fair trade activists and focused their discussions on how the movement could move toward a solution for evolving issues.

Each day, students attended three workshops. They discussed how to start a fair trade campaign on campuses and the laws and policies concerning fair trade, Schembra said.

If a fair trade campaign were started on campus, it would be a joint effort between Students for Real Food and Students for Economic and Social Justice, she said.

“I think in the future there will be a push for fair trade,” Schembra said.

Students, vendors, professors and Transfair, the company that certifies whether or not a farm is fair trade, shared their opinions during the conference.

“People from all different fields coming together giving their opinions was really beneficial,” Schembra said.

Shannon Kuhn, a member of Students for Real Food, said she loved how there were producers from Costa Rica, Thailand and a few other countries who talked about how fair trade has benefited them.
Kuhn is planning a Fair Trade Summit in the University Center sometime in April. The summit would bring local businesses and dining services together to discuss what fair trade is and how it works as an alternative economic model, she said.

Schembra said she is counting on taking the energy that Kuhn will generate from the Fair Trade Summit to start a fair trade campaign on campus.

“Hopefully, (UM) will begin to purchase more fair trade products and commit to paying the farmer’s living wage in developing countries,” Kuhn said.

It has been proven that fair trade farmers earn more money and have better lives. There is also evidence that fair trade farming is more environment friendly because the certification requires the farmers to practice more sustainable agriculture, Schembra said.

“Buying fair trade is better than, obviously, buying non-fair trade,” she said. “If you have a choice, it’s always better to buy fair trade.”

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