The Rules of the Trade

Rachel Golden is a freshman at UC Berkeley. Respond to her at [email protected]





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Though few students know it, the Free Speech Movement Cafe, among other cafes in Berkeley, started serving Fair Trade Certified Coffee after, appropriately enough, student protest. Even Starbucks, the transnational corporation notorious for labor and environmental transgressions, has recently promised to sell Fair Trade Coffee by the pound for a trial period, as a result of pressure from concerned people.

In the heat of momentous worldwide protests against the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and World Bank, why are Berkeley students and residents protesting something as small as coffee beans? Because the labor and environmental problems that people associate with organizations like the WTO are ground up in the coffee that most of us drink everyday - industrial coffee.

Coffee farmers who are seasonally hired by industrial coffee corporations only get paid around $3 a day. Instead of paying the farmers the full rate for exporting industrial coffee (a little over $1 a pound), exploitative middlemen leave them only about 50 cents a pound, thereby forcing the farmers and their families and communities into a cycle of debt and poverty. In addition, industrial coffee is grown on large pesticide-contaminated plantations, contributing to widespread illnesses, deforestation, extinction of animals, and pollution of the air and water.

Fair Trade Certified Coffee, on the other hand, revolves around labor rights and environmental responsibility. Fair Trade Coffee farmers are guaranteed a living wage of $1.26 a pound, participate in small, democratic farmer cooperatives, and negotiate directly in international trade markets. Fair Trade Coffee is grown on small family-run organic farms among fruit trees and other plants, thereby avoiding unnecessary environmental hazards and providing food for the farming family.

As coffee consumers, we have a tremendous power and opportunity to support coffee farmers and environmentally sustainable practices around the world by buying Fair Trade Certified Coffee. However, we do not need to flock to large corporate cafes like Starbucks to buy Fair Trade Coffee. Rather, in order to build the Fair Trade Movement, it is essential to ask our local neighborhood cafes to sell Fair Trade Coffee (at the same price as organic coffee). These Berkeley stores currently sell Fair Trade Certified Coffee: Cafe Strada, Uncommon Grounds, Global Exchange Third World, Capoiera Art Cafe, Chester Cafe, Free Speech Movement Cafe.

Recently, coffee farmers have come to Berkeley to ask our help. Though we are so far away, we affect their lives and we need to remember their message. Santiago Paz Lopez, a Fair Trade Coffee farmer from Northern Peru, closed a recent speech at UC Berkeley's Center for Latin American Studies by saying through a translator, "For every cup of coffee you drink, you can do so in a way to bring many, many farmers and families a better way of life."

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