With planning underway for World Fair Trade Day activities on Saturday, May 8th, my mind drifts back to Southern Mexico, and my experience there visiting fair trade coffee cooperatives this past January. The trip was part of a collaborative effort between CASA, University Ministry and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Seven USD students also had the opportunity to be a part of the delegation, including representatives from Students for Fair Trade and Sustainability. We were able to see where the coffee comes from and learn more about how the fair trade movement manifested itself there, within the context of the struggle for human rights and specifically for indigenous rights. We visited two different coffee cooperatives- Michiza in Oaxaca and Maya Vinic in Chiapas. It was a rare opportunity to interface with the producers of the beans used for our daily cups of coffee.
As the semester gets crazy with papers, homework and tests it is tough to slow down. So often I am drinking coffee into the early hours of the morning to stay up to finish all my work, but then my coffee just becomes a means to staying awake and I drink it with little thought about who and what is behind that cup of coffee. What is a caffeine fix for many in the global north is the source of survival for many in the south, as their livelihoods depend on the production of coffee.
I think one of the main problems in today’s society is an unawareness or an unwillingness to acknowledge the people and processes that produce the goods that we purchase and consume. When ones shirt is made in Honduras, pants in Thailand and shoes in Indonesia for example, it is difficult to feel any sort of connection or responsibility. We do not see or come in contact with the producers, but are instead separated by many miles. We are connected though, via that product as well as our common humanity.
As part of our delegation’s attempt to connect with the producers we spent time in the rural villages learning about the coffee process, and how the CRS Coffee Project is helping the cooperatives to develop and experience greater success. While visiting Mexico however it was easy to become engulfed by all of the differences that I saw in the communities. The hardships of an agricultural life and the economic and social injustices that the people faced seemed to weigh heavily on the communities. I became wrapped up in how foreign the land and the people seemed to me, but then the wisdom of an old farmer gave me new perspective. He looked at the members of our small delegation and told us that we are no different from them. We may be from the north and they may be from the south, but we are from the same world, he said. I had been caught up in a lot of the economic and cultural differences, and in many ways I had forgotten about one thing we had in common- we are linked as members of a global civilization, and we are also linked by coffee. It was obvious that there were imperfections in even fair trade, but the potential was there, and it was based in this recognition that there is a connection via not only a product but also through our shared humanity, thus implicating the consumer with a responsibility to use their purchasing power to promote peace and justice.
There will be several opportunities this month to engage further with these topics of fair trade, worker rights, globalization, and justice. Students for Fair Trade and Sustainability is hosting a Fair Trade Open Mic Night on Monday, April 12 from 7:30-10 pm in Aromas. There will be performances throughout the evening, and during the breaks students from Students for Fair Trade and Sustainability will be sharing information about globalization, social justice and fair trade. In addition, special guest Rigoberto Contreras Diaz will be speaking about his experiences as a fair trade coffee farmer in Southern Mexico. He is a small-scale, farmer from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico and a founding member of a coffee cooperative. Rigoberto shares the story of struggles within coffee farming communities today, and how the collaboration between their cooperative and Catholic Relief Services is helping to build a stronger foundation for the future.There will be free fair trade coffee and snacks available, as well as the opportunity to purchase some fair trade goods.
Students for Fair Trade and Sustainability is also hosting another exciting event soon. Tuesday, April 27thfrom 7:30-9:00 pm in UC Forums A/B, Jim Keady, an anti-sweatshop activist will be presenting. Jim Keady, theologian, activist, educator, and elected official, is a founding director of Educating for Justice, Inc. (EFJ). Jim has spoken across the United States and at international venues to thousands of interested audience members. He has been sought out by members of the U.S. Congress, as well various university administrators, religious and union leaders and student groups to offer his personal and professional experience and critiques on the issues of sweatshops, globalization and social justice. The presentation details the month that Keady and colleague Leslie Kretzu spent in an Indonesian factory workers' slum living on $1.25 a day, a typical wage paid to Nike's subcontracted workers. Along with personal accounts of lived solidarity, the presentation includes the latest information on Nike's labor and environmental practices that EFJ has researched in Indonesia from 2000 to the present.