Fair trade

Fair trade stretched beyond coffee this weekend at the annual United States For Fair Trade International Convergence in Chicago.

Four Marquette students joined more than 300 other students from about 100 U.S. college campuses and 10 countries in the largest fair trade event in the Northern Hemisphere this year.

They were Melanie Benesh, a College of Arts & Sciences junior; Sarah Cotton, a College of Arts & Sciences junior; Martha Trevey, a College of Nursing junior; and Karen Rupprecht, a College of Arts & Sciences senior.

Benesh worked for the past nine months primarily with Joe Curnow, a senior at Northwestern University, to coordinate the event. Their efforts were supported by, among others, New York University, Whitman College, Cornell University and Oxfam, a development and relief organization.

The four-day convergence aimed to educate, activate and empower, Benesh said. It included workshops in leadership development on campus and in community organizations. Workforce expansion, raising awareness and developing resources within fair trade were also on the to-do list.

"It was very inspirational to see people so dedicated to making change," Benesh said. "It sort of refreshed and renewed my outlook on the world."

Participating countries included Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Kenya, Vietnam, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

"It was a really big step forward in global activism for fair trade," Benesh said. "It was really exciting to see so many students from all over who are doing quite amazing things."

Trevey was also impressed.

"Students from all over the world came together in order to educate, inspire, learn from each other," she said.

She participated in several workshops, including one in which she had a chance to interact with coffee producers.

"It's like a different perspective," Trevey said. "It made fair trade hit more close to home."

Another workshop she attended described how economic issues play a large part in fair trade policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement, which advocated for economic growth and better living conditions.

Trevey said this has given her a different approach to make fair trade work on campus.

She first became aware of and interested in the fair trade movement her freshman year when the Brew Bayou began selling fair trade coffee.

Students who attended the gathering are committed to some sort of action and strengthening activist relationships among themselves. The conference also bolstered the number of students involved, according to Benesh.

Fair trade is an alternative way of buying products that benefits both the growers and distributors, Benesh said. Fair trade products include chocolate, tea, bananas, grapes and mangoes.

European countries have begun selling fair trade clothing and soccer balls, she said.

The other two participants, Cotton and Rupprecht, were not available for comment.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Feb. 22 2005.