MPIRG hosts fair trade events

By Federico Burlon

Since October is national Fair Trade month, the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), a statewide organization, is promoting a slate of events throughout the month to promote fair trade.

The events coming up include a presentation by a Mexican farmer on Tuesday about Fair Trade and immigration, and a Thai speaker on Thursday Oct. 24 who will give a presentation on how free trade agreements have threatened access to healthcare. Finally, closing Fair Trade month, there will be a Fair Trade chocolate sale on Halloween, Tuesday Oct. 31.

The events began last Saturday at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, where, in addition to regional products from all over the world, there were different Fair Trade certified products including coffee, fruits and clothes for sale. In addition, there were speakers, including one from a coffee plantation in Guatemala. The celebration was followed by a Fair Trade coffee tasting and information session held on Wednesday and Thursday in the Campus Center, and then a movie called “Life and Debt” shown on Thursday evening.
With these activities, MPIRG aims at increasing social awareness of issues such as Fair Trade and how to get to Fair Trade products.

The concept of Fair Trade emerged in the 1940s and has been developing since then. According to supporters, it is a more socially just alternative to free trade, its main aim being paying fairer wages to farmers in “Lesser Developed Countries.”

These farmers, generally organized in democratic cooperatives, apply to international bodies called Fair Trade Labeling Organizations (FLO), such as Peace Coffee, Transfair USA or Oxfam, which certify their products as Fair Trade. These FLOs also make sure that farmers meet environmental standards. By receiving sustainable wages, farmers are able to provide for their families’ basic needs and are also able to invest in community development.

Some people point to lack of markets as a weakness of fair trade. However, Fair Trade is neither a novelty at Macalester, where the Grille sells Peace Coffee, nor in St. Paul, since several food shops such as Kowalski’s and Whole Foods, and several coffee shops such as Starbucks, Cahoots and Coffee News are serving varying quantities of Fair Trade coffee.