Recoiling from the shock of the third quorate UGM of the year it would have been easy to miss the fact that a decision was taken that will have a very real and visible effect on campus food supplies. The eco reps, Sian Jones and Ben Velmans have now the power of Union policy to get to work on their mission for York to be transformed into an exemplar for the Fair Trade movement, which for a campus so heavily dominated by the nearby Nestle can be no bad thing. At the very least it will bring us diversity of chocolate bar choice, at best we can contribute to making trade fair and stabilising the fluctuant commodity prices that can wreck lives.
Simply put, the fair trade movement exists to help the Third World producers of raw materials used by the West get a decent price for what they grow. It is a shocking statistic that prices for commodities such as tea, coffee and cocoa beans have not risen in real terms for over forty years. Contrast that with the growth in the wealth of countries and companies exploiting these farmers and you cannot fail to feel sickened. Now there is not only the guilt of the calories in that KitKat you munched after lunch, but also the knowledge that the cocoa beans used were produced by someone whose average annual wage is less than a UK family spends on chocolate in a year. If there was a FairTrade mark on the wrapper, you could sleep easy knowing that the producer is getting a fair deal.
In attempting to become a fair trade university we are joining the ranks of Nottingham, Loughborough, Oxford Brookes and Aberdeen, universities held up as examples by Oxfam on its website, www.oxfam.org.uk/fairtrad/uniguide/contents.html. Oxfam were one of the founding members of the FairTrade Foundation, the body that controls the right to use the fair trade label. They have dedicated pages on the website for students wishing to make their uni fair trade approved and there are hundreds of pages of info on the web as a whole about growers, producers and all the stages of production that lead to the unfair price paid to growers by the major corporations. In short, ignorance is not an option nor an excuse.
The success of the fair trade movement lies in the upfront approach of its members. Whilst the major buyers of cocoa and sugar try to hide the fact that they pay pittance for it, producers of FairTrade approved products say it loud and proud. Contrast the standpoint of Kraft Foods, producers of Maxwell House clearly has something to hide, ‘We never discuss our pricing’ (Mary Jane Kinkade, spokeswoman, October 2001) with the somewhat gushing excitement of the Co-op’s Terry Houghton upon the introduction of FairTrade pineapples as the own brand, "As the country's leading Fairtrade retailer, we're committed to bringing Fairtrade into the mainstream by selling Fairtrade products wherever and whenever we can. Our efforts in supporting and developing Fairtrade resulted in Co-op sales of these products increasing by a massive 180 per cent last year."
The Co-op are leading the field in supplying FairTrade products, showing them to be a viable investment as they have switched all their own brand chocolate to fairly traded producers. Other major companies are beginning to make an effort as well, realising that may be consumers do care what they eat and where it comes from. Sainsburys stock a small range of FairTrade products, Costa Coffee have CafeDirect expresso, and even mega chain Starbucks have made a token effort with Own Brand Fairtrade Coffee available as 'Coffee of the day' (cafétiere) once a month in all Starbucks coffee shops. Own Brand Fairtrade Coffee Beans are also available to purchase.
The problem is you often have to go looking for the fair trade option, to find that random section in the back left corner of the supermarket that has the vegan lentils and organic wheat flour. What Sian and Ben hope to do is make the choice so simple we won’t even have to think about it, wherever there is chocolate there will be FairTrade.