Guest Column: Fair trade vital for economic growth

Over the past few weeks, students attentive to campus political and social affairs have witnessed what might appear as a theatrical exposition of warring factions at the expense of honest politicking and the ensuring that certain "relevant" student interests are met. It is our poor, downtrodden administration and faculty who have found themselves at the behest of the will of those pesky social justice "idealists."

As absurd and fantastical as this synopsis sounds, you might feel the urge to rescue a bag of popcorn from the pantry for a proper televised event.

An explosion of ignorance has occurred particularly beginning with and following UH Interim President John Rudley’s unwarranted and clumsily executed "advertisement," which unfairly depicts the true nature of the fair trade and anti-sweatshop movements on our campus.

The direct action campaign Students for Fair Trade have employed against Rudley and his administration began as a reaction to a memo from Rudley. The memo established a barrier preventing SFT and Students Against Sweatshops to communicate with Rudley and his entire staff unless either student group provided a "recommendation" from the Student Government Association, the Faculty Senate or the Staff Council. SFT got a resolution passed through the SGA for a 100 percent fair trade kiosk in M.D. Anderson Library’s 24-hour study lounge.

The SGA is a democratic student organization. When a resolution or bill is passed through the SGA, it is not done so on a whim or without deliberation.

Now, what must be understood is that fair trade is not a type of coffee bean. Your choice is not being undermined because you decide to not support Starbucks. Keep in mind that SFT has passed a resolution for one coffee shop so that you can explore your options of a complete fair trade menu. And you should feel relieved to know your dollar has been empowered with purpose beyond satisfying your fancy. Fair-trade certification has much green provisioning through shade growing and ensures for a drink free of pesticides and contamination.

Further, to say fair trade is about relieving "poverty" is to commit a gross oversimplification. Fair trade is a market-responsive economic model for commodities. It is such that the premiums paid to farmers come only from companies willing to pay them. And what are they paying for exactly? It is part socio-economic growth and part better quality good. But this too simplifies the matter, and I would not wish to commit even a similar folly. Fair trade’s primary interest is that of people, that is, the producers and farmers who grow the products that our economy thrives upon.

A charge has been made that there are "more relevant," local concerns, such as our surrounding Third Ward area or tuition hikes. If the implication is that local issues do not afflict fair traders, I believe we can immediately and unquestionably dismiss this claim for it is tortured logic.

The "how is this relevant to me" argument is completely untenable and is a result of a tongue too quick for its wit. The root of this argument, however, is advocacy for campus isolationism. But yet again, we find ourselves arguing unsoundly, believing that our commodities are produced by magic.

It is naive and superstitious to believe our economy is subsistent within its geographic borders and ethical foreign trade policy is irrelevant. We have a responsibility to our economy on every scale – global to local – to ensure that it runs as efficiently and ethically as possible. We cannot make arbitrary and unfounded distinctions as to who is "in" our realm of economic importance. We all are.

Alexander, a philosophy junior, can be reached via [email protected]

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