Ross Barnard" />
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Sunday, September 24, 2023


Guest Column: Rudley continues to ignore Fair Trade issue

Interim President John Rudley took out a full-page ad in The Daily Cougar titled the "University of Houston Response" to Fair Trade and ethical treatment of garment workers.

Fair trade addresses poverty in developing nations by guaranteeing the grower gets a floor price of $1.36 per pound, by buying through coffee co-ops that contribute to the communities, and offer long term business relationships – all of which allow coffee families to send their children to school, have access to medical care, and to invest in their crops to produce better tasting coffee.

According to Rudley, the fair trade coffee "demand" is to have UH sell only fair trade certified coffee. Our current campaign is to only sell fair trade coffee on campus. However, the biggest issue is the transparency involved in the University’s decision-making process. Last spring the Student Government Association passed a resolution calling for a 100 percent fair trade vendor to be put in the 24-hour study lounge of the M.D. Anderson Library. Our public information requests revealed that a contract with Starbucks had been signed in late summer. Furthermore, the contract was not even put out to bid. By using a no-bid process and awarding the contract to a company that cannot vend 100 percent fair trade coffee shows that the administration is subverting the democratic process.

The Students for Fair Trade tried multiple times to meet with Jim McShan, who signs the contracts. However, Rudley sent us an e-mail saying that no meeting is to be set with any administrator with Students for Fair Trade until one of the governing bodies passed a resolution concerning the content of the issue SFT wishes to discuss. This clearly was a delay tactic since we wanted to discuss why the SGA resolution was being ignored. After Rudley ignored our response to his non-factual demand, we decided a direct non-violent action was needed to raise awareness of this clear subversion of democracy. Instead of addressing our concerns, Rudley attempted to attack our campaign instead.

At the bottom of the ad, Rudley stated his administration agrees with upholding "careful research, discussion, and debate appropriate to . . . shared government." None of these were taken into account, unfortunately, when Rudley wrote the ad. For example, he writes that Shasta’s Cones and More sells only fair trade coffee and that "another organic" coffee shop will be going into Roy G. Cullen Building. Is Rudley implying that fair trade and organic are interchangeable? Rudley errs with the use of the term "Free Trade Coffee" – he must mean traditional coffee.

Rudley echoes another misunderstanding of fair trade when he says UH "does not mandate one type of coffee." Fair trade is not a flavor, a brand or from a particular country. It only deals with the treatment of the producers. There are multiple flavored fair trade coffees and fair trade espresso beans from all of the coffee growing regions; and, in fact, fair trade allows growers to invest in their crop, which allows them to produce a superior product. A campus selling only fair trade coffee, would not change the smell or taste of the coffee "options" as we have it now. If Rudley had done any research he would not have made these mistakes. As far as "discussion" goes, SFT have been refused a meeting therefore Rudley cannot claim he upholds "discussion." Finally, Rudley is subverting "shared governance," not upholding it.

Rudley’s choice to pay for an ad , which, I hope, was not paid for by students’ fees, instead of writing an argument that actually addresses our concerns we have made clear, shows he is avoiding the issue. I’m asking you, Rudley, in front of the University community, will you respond to your subversion of the shared governance approach?

Barnard, an English senior, can be reached via [email protected]

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