Written by: Kim Miller, Ignatian Solidarity Network
May 14th marks World Fair Trade Day, which celebrates the global effort to ensure trade benefits everyone, including the world’s most vulnerable populations. With the current poverty rates (more than 2.7 billion people living on $2 a day) and global effects of unsustainable agriculture and production practices in places like Indonesia and Nicaragua, now is the time to celebrate this fair economic model.
The premise of fair trade is simple: base economic partnerships on “dialogue, transparency, and respect” (Fair Trade Federation), and the impacts are significant. Fair trade case studies in places like Bolivia, Cambodia, and Rwanda show the potential fair trade partnerships have to transform vulnerable global communities.
Jesuit schools, parishes, and ministries worldwide have joined the efforts to make trade fair. On a national level, Jesuit schools have committed to offering fair trade coffee in their dining halls and living wage produced clothing from AltaGracia in their bookstores, and parishes and schools have provided opportunities to learn more about Fair Trade and engage in the movement.
Creighton University has made great headway in this effort, and has officially become the 7th university and 1st Jesuit University in the United States to receive Fair Trade Status. Designated by Fair Trade Colleges & Universities USA, the national program recognizes schools who commit to: creating a Fair Trade Committee, making Fair Trade products available in university-owned/operated outlets, using Fair Trade products during university meetings and events, developing a Fair Trade policy, and committing to educating the campus community about the Fair Trade movement.
ISN had a chance to chat with Chris Boitano, the recent Creighton University grad who spearheaded the movement for Creighton receiving the Fair Trade Status.
ISN: How did you become passionate about Fair Trade, and why did you want Creighton University to receive Fair Trade Status?
Chris: I had heard a lot about Fair Trade in high school, but I didn’t become super connected to it until I went on an immersion trip to the Dominican Republic during my sophomore year at Creighton. I met people who were negatively affected by the US economy, and putting a face and a name and having a personal connection with someone was so much more meaningful than hearing about it in the classroom. Fair Trade pays living wages, so at least a few people can have a job, house, and not have to choose between medication and food, and I wanted to bring that awareness to Creighton.
ISN: Do you have any advice for students at Jesuit or Catholic universities who want to work toward fair trade status?
The biggest thing is educating people about what Fair Trade is and why it’s important. A lot of people don’t understand what sweat free apparel or Fair Trade products are when they hear about them. Giving people the knowledge and drive to change something they know and care about means a lot more than just having an administrator sign a piece of paper.
We saw this happen at Creighton. I began working on this project after returning from my DR trip my sophomore year, and was able to get Fair Trade policy legislation passed through the student government. But the next semester, we needed to relax the policy, because people didn’t fully understand it.
I realized that changing the bylaws wasn’t enough—we had to educate!
ISN: What are some of the ways you educated the Creighton community about Fair Trade?
We invited representatives from Fair Trade USA to speak at Creighton, showed a documentary called “Climate Refugees” to talk about the need for sustainability, and held town hall meetings for faculty and staff. It’s a lot more meaningful if everyone at the school knows about the campaign and why it’s important.
How is your school or parish community engaged in the Fair Trade movement?