Student group pushes Northwestern toward fair trade products

Julia Doran, Reporter

A new student group is working to certify Northwestern as a “fair trade university,” starting with advocacy and outreach.

Proponents of fair trade push for fair and livable wages for workers, safe and healthy working conditions, local sustainability and fair terms of trade for farmers, said Anne Debertin, who founded Fair Trade at NU during Winter Quarter.

“It goes beyond just wages,” the Weinberg junior said. “It goes to workers’ entire livelihoods and toward their ability to lead a life that doesn’t degrade them and put them on the outskirts of society and marginalize them to a point where they really have no voice of their own.”

The fair trade movement lessens demand for cheap products, which often require dangerous working conditions, meager wages and general neglect of workers’ basic needs, Debertin said. Fair trade products, though more expensive, ensure better conditions and fair pay for the workers, she said.

Fair Trade at NU is focusing on raising awareness through campus events such as Philfest and documentary screenings that challenge assumptions about the movement, Debertin said.

“Almost every other Chicago university and college had a fair trade group, and Northwestern is so social justice oriented that I was just shocked that we didn’t have our own,” she said. “I wanted to have some way that we could contribute as well, and I think as a very privileged campus, we have a lot of resources, and we have a lot that we can offer.”

Weinberg sophomore Natalie Burg, a member of Fair Trade at NU, said there are about 10 students in the group and a four-person executive board that meets weekly. She added the group plans to recruit heavily in the fall.

The group will focus on getting fair trade products into dining halls next, starting with bananas. Members have already started communicating with local banana distributors, Debertin said.

Real Food at NU, which pushes for a more ethical and sustainable dining system, focuses some attention on the human rights component of food consumption, including support of fair trade, said Morgan McFall-Johnsen, Real Food at NU’s co-director and analyst.

The group plans to help Fair Trade at NU once it begins efforts to introduce new products into the dining halls, McFall-Johnsen said.

“Real Food will probably serve as the liaison between Fair Trade and Sodexo and NU Dining, because we do have those relationships already built up, and we work with them on a pretty regular basis,” the Medill freshman said.

Sodexo spokeswoman Rachel Tilghman said NU Dining is committed to supporting fair trade because of its partnership with Real Food at NU, as well as the University’s recent pledge to increase “real food” in dining halls to 20 percent by 2020.

She also said although she has not yet heard directly from Fair Trade at NU, NU Dining is eager to work with students to further the effort, which has been particularly successful in advocating for fair trade coffee in dining halls and the cafe in University Library.

“If there are other products or other areas students would like to see under that fair trade umbrella, we are more than happy to research and understand what purchasing options are available to us,” she said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @_juliadoran