MC students and faculty play fair with workers

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Manhattan College has become the first college in the city and the fifth in the country to be named a Fair Trade University. 

To receive the designation, a school has to have two fair trade products in each of its vending facilities; use fair trade items at meetings and events; develop a resolution outlining its commitment to the cause; and implement lessons about conscientious consumption. 

“It’s really just part of giving back to the community … It’s important to reach outside our school community,” senior Hilary Krombel said. 

The first U.S. college designated by Fair Trade Universities was University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, which received the honor in 2008. 

When Gwendolyn A. Tedeschi, assistant professor of economics at MC, found out about Fair Trade Universities, she began filling out applications and helped form a fair trade steering committee made up of faculty, student interns and David Funkhouser of Fair Trade USA. The committee lobbied the school senate and executive committee to pass a resolution formalizing MC’s commitment and dedication to fair trade. College President Brennan O’Donnell signed it on Feb. 7 and the designation was announced at an event on Feb. 16 in Thomas Hall’s dining area. 

“I think it … raises the bar a bit,” Ms. Tedeschi said of the official designation. “It says that we’re not going to be static, we’re going to continue … our programming, not just extracurricular … but within the classroom.”

In many ways, MC’s recognition was merely a formality. Faculty and staff at the school have been buying, researching, promoting and spreading the word about fair trade products and their benefits for the last five years. 

Fair trade is a consumer-driven movement in which purchasers seek out items produced by workers who make a living wage or are paid a set minimum for their efforts. For example, fair trade guarantees that coffee farmers receive a minimum of $1.41 for every pound of coffee they produce, which ensures that when prices drop, workers wages do not get slashed. Fair trade organizations also encourage companies and producers to improve working conditions by allowing their employees to unionize. 

MC’s fair trade frenzy began in 2007 when students took a 10-day service trip to Ecuador, where low-wage, impoverished workers produce flowers and coffee for export to the United States. 

“We saw a lot of poverty and we wondered ‘well what could we do about this?’” said Lois Harr, MC’s director of Campus Ministry and Social Action. 

When the students came back to the U.S., they began researching how they could contribute to fair trade practices. 

Since then, faculty and students have attended conferences on the subject. They have hosted coffee farmers from El Salvador and Mexico. And they watched the film The Dark Side of Chocolate, in which Danish journalist Miki Mistrati investigates where chocolate comes from and discovers that much of it is produced by trafficked children. 

Students also lobbied to change MC’s dining practices and today, Gourmet Dining brings in a variety of fair trade products, including coffee, tea and chocolate. In the fall, fair trade pineapples, bananas and blueberries were also on offer. The bookstore sells fair trade chocolate by Green and Blacks; and Divine. 

“The movement is very important … it’s very important that it’s not all about capitalism. You have to appreciate small businesses and those who aren’t as fortunate as us,” Nick Valinotti, director of community relations and marketing at Gourmet Dining, said. 

Last week’s event featured fair trade chocolate chip cookies, chocolate bars and Green Mountain Coffee. Clothing by Alta Gracia, which pays its workers in Altagracia, Dominican Republic a living wage, was for sale and green balloons floated in the air as MC officials gave speeches congratulating students and faculty. 

MC’s Campus Ministry and Social Action hosted two presentations on fair trade coffee farming in El Salvador and Mexico to teach students about how their consumption affects workers overseas. 

October was fair trade month at MC and each Thursday Gourmet Dining offered a fair trade-themed food item. One week there was fair trade pineapple upside-down cake and another week students ate local pies with fair trade ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s. There were even sundaes with fair trade bananas.  

And that’s not all. In December, students raised more than $1,000 at a consignment sale featuring products from Handcrafting Justice and Work of Human Hands, both of which offer fair trade handicrafts from disadvantaged producers. They have also held a chocolate tasting and had a tie-dying event in which students decorated sweatshop-free T-shirts. 

In the future, college officials said they will try to buy the fair trade version of anything they can, including athletic equipment, such as soccer balls. 

Ms. Harr recognizes that fair trade products do tend to be a little more expensive. But when people complain she has a comeback. 

“It might cost a little more because justice isn’t cheap.”

THE RETIRED & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of the Community Service Society is recruiting volunteers age 55 and over to assist in working with 3- and 4-year-old children in Head Start Centers, helping them to develop a love for learning.

RSVP Grandfriend volunteers are patient and caring individuals who share their time and experience with children and teachers in selected Head Start centers throughout New York City. Grandfriends assist Head Start teachers in activities that help children develop and strengthen their language skills. Orientation and training are provided. For more information, please call Margarita I. Zapata at 718-295-7940.

Established 34 years ago, the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program’s 9,000 volunteers contribute more than two million hours of service annually to 600 organizations in New York City. RSVP is part of the Community Service Society of New York, a nonprofit organization which advocates on behalf of the poor in the areas of education, affordable housing, health care and income maintenance. RSVP is funded by CSS, the Corporation for National Service, other government agencies, foundations, individuals and the Friends of RSVP, Inc.

 

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