Students for Fair Trade assembled on the sidewalk in front of the home of a UH administrator Saturday to promote an all-fair trade campus and an increase in living wages for Aramark workers.
The home of assistant Vice President of University Services Emily Messa in Clear Lake was the stage for more than 10 demonstrators, which included Aramark workers and members of Students for Fair Trade.
‘We’re here just to creatively exercise our rights,’ sociology sophomore Brendan Laws said. ‘(Messa) gets paid for doing her job, and unfortunately, her job is more or less to pretend like nothing’s wrong.’
According to a press release from the Division of Administration and Finance University Services, ‘approximately 30 percent of the coffee purchased by the University is Fair Trade certified and there are four locations on campus that only serve Fair Trade coffee.’
The dining halls of Oberholtzer Hall and Moody Towers, Cougar Grounds and Shasta’s Cones and More are the four mentioned, and Fair Trade coffee is also available at the ‘Einstein Bros. Bagels in Philip Guthrie Hoffman Hall, the C-Stores, the Starbuck’s in the C.T. Bauer College of Business and the Starbuck’s located in the UC Satellite.’
Despite the changes made, Laws said he is still displeased.
‘There has been some progress, but just not enough,’ Laws said. ‘I mean, we’ve had to work years for really small changes and these important problems are still there.’
Supporters of the cause aimed their concerns at Messa’s home and neighbors, via microphone and speaker, to remind her that the issue of fair trade on campus has not been addressed to their satisfaction.
According to the Website for Students for Fair Trade, the ‘key goals of fair trade are to empower low-income, disadvantaged or otherwise marginalized artisans and farmers around the globe to better their conditions and to promote understanding between them and first world consumers.’
‘I think the students should get involved in making their campus an ethical place that treats workers like human beings,’ said Tim O’Brien, history doctoral candidate and founder of Students for Fair Trade at UH.
With many onlookers and passers-by reading flyers headed ‘beware of your neighbor,’ Students for Fair Trade at UH raised the visibility of campus issues to reach far beyond main campus boundaries.
‘I think the turnout is great, not to mention all the wonderful people we got to come out here in solidarity with us,’ political science junior, Chris Ramsey said.
Among those present was Kenyha Shabazz, leader of the People’s Party III and friend of O’Brien, who made the trek to Clear Lake to support his friend and encourage Messa to ‘do the right thing,’ Shabazz said.
‘It’s always good to do the right thing, no matter what,’ Shabazz said. ‘Because there’s a price to pay for good and bad-which price do you want to pay?’
Gloria Rubac, a fellow Houstonian, heard about the protest through Facebook.
‘I have cleaned offices and I have worked at fast-food restaurants, and I know that these workers are not getting what’s right at UH,’ Rubac said.
Permits in hand, the group was ready to deflect any of the numerous cop cars patrolling the area. The group faced one or two angry neighbors, Laws said, one of which was particularly aggressive on the part of the by-stander.
‘We don’t break any laws; we don’t hurt anybody; we don’t do anything wrong,’ Laws said. ‘We’re not saying anything negative about Messa as a person. We’re just critiquing her actions, and that’s what we do. We’re critiquing the actions of the University.’
Messa could not be reached for comment before deadline.