May 2, 2003

Students for Fair Trade Lobby Cornell Dining

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Students for Fair Trade at Cornell have several reasons to celebrate. During this semester, and over the past few weeks, members have come far in their fight to have Cornell Dining sell only fair trade coffee.

Pressure

The students, along with the newly formed national United Students for Fair Trade, have been putting student pressure on leaders in the coffee industry to increase demand for fair trade coffee, a type of coffee that ensures a fair wage to farmers.

The process sets the price of coffee beans at $1.26 per pound, according to the website of Transfair U.S.A., the third party organization which certifies the process.

Student pressure several years ago resulted in Cornell Dining adding one line, french roast, of fair trade coffee to its selection. Students have since stepped up their efforts in the past few months, producing substantial results.

Training Session

Two members of Students for Fair Trade at Cornell, Jessica Brown ’04 and Ben Mantle ’04, along with 40 other student activists from around the country, attended an Oxfam student training session at the University of Washington in February. At this meeting, two major announcements were made, according to Brown.

The United Students for Fair Trade began at the same time that Seattle’s Best, a leader in the coffee industry and Cornell’s supplier, announced that it was adding two new lines of fair trade coffee for colleges and universities, one that was decaffeinated and one that could be made into espresso.

According to Brown, the announcement cited student pressures as a main impetus for the addition. “I’d like to think we had a hand in tripling Seattle’s Best’s fair trade offerings in general. I feel pretty confident and positive about next semester,” Mantle said.

In mid-April, several representatives from Seattle’s Best’s management, including the vice president, spoke at a Student Assembly meeting and met with some representatives of Students for Fair Trade at Cornell. Three of the company’s representatives spoke to the S.A. about their commitment to sustainable development, according to Mantle.

Fair Trade

Although most of the company’s coffee is not fair trade, they cited the company’s commitment to fair labor practices and cited the size of the farms as why they are not eligible for fair trade status. However, Dan Fireside, grad, responded to the executives, noting that only a third-party organization like Transfair could accurately intervene to ensure the best conditions for farmers.

Discussion

At the discussion following the S.A. meeting, Seattle’s Best executives explained that their two new lines of Fair Trade coffee were already at the warehouse from which Cornell gets its coffee, according to Mantle.

Shortly after the meeting last week, two lines of fair trade coffee were added to Cornell’s dining facilities. “This year’s work has paid off. We’ve already tripled the amount of fair trade at Cornell and tripled the amount offered by Seattle’s Best to the country,” Brown said.

Another recent development involves the potential for fair trade coffee at Cornell’s all-you-care-to-eat dining facilities.

Also last week, Pura Vida Coffee, a company which donates all of its net profit to charity, introduced the first-ever fair trade “liquid coffee,” the type of coffee used in the all-you-care-to-eat coffee machines.

At a recent meeting of the S.A. Dining Committee, this new development was discussed, and students were told that there is a great potential for Cornell Dining to switch to Pura Vida’s fair trade line in these facilities next semester.

On the national level several changes in the coffee industry have occurred as well. At a recent conference of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), Dunkin Donuts announced that all of its franchises would be serving fair trade espresso.

Representatives of United Students for Fair Trade also had a strong presence at this conference, according to Brown who was there as a representative of both Cornell and the national organization, of which she is a board member.

Also on the national level, on April 16, Starbucks announced that it would be taking over Seattle’s Best, which is currently owned by AFT Enterprises. “Our sales rep from Seattle’s Best said that this should not have any effect on the coffee we receive from them,” Brown said.

Students for Fair Trade at Cornell are happy that their work has paid off in the form of these developments. However, “we would really like to get a commitment from Cornell that the their next contract will be for all fair trade coffee,” Brown said.

Brown and Mantle stressed the importance of educating students about fair trade and garnering their support: “It’s educating people about fair trade, and tying it in to other products; it’s not just coffee that’s important and can work for a lot of different foods,” Mantle said.

Confident that Cornell would be all fair trade within the next few years, Brown said, “We’ve gotten over 1,000 signatures form students. [Fair trade coffee] should be everywhere, and if it’s not people should ask. Cornell Dining is pretty flexible and the employees listen,” Brown said.

A number of other ideas have also been discussed during meetings with the management of Cornell Dining, one of which is for Cornell to add an all fair trade coffee stand, according to Mantle. This plan is tentative, but the committee has been tossing around the idea of linking fair trade coffee with local fair trade chocolate, in a new Cornell Dining facility.


Archived article by Aliza Wasserman

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