An inside look at Canisius’ Fair Trade Week

By Robert Creenan
Griffin Reporter

This week, the USA’s JUSTICE Committee and Peace Action, a club that’s barely three weeks old, put on Fair Trade Week, an effort to educate the Canisius student population about goods that come out of sustainable practices and ethical treatment of workers. The displays included taste testing of chocolate, tea and coffee, pumpkin making, and education on what fair trade is.

Alexis Grenbehok, the JUSTICE Chair on USA and a justice intern with Campus Ministry, is one of the main coordinators of the event. When explaining what fair trade is, Grenbehok said, “Fair trade is a higher standard to hold goods by, which takes sustainability into accountability. It makes sure crops aren’t wasting water or exposed to pesticides. There’s no child labor involved, there’s no unsafe working conditions, and genders get equal pay.”

“On Monday and Tuesday,” Grenbehok recapped, “we offered free tastings of coffee, tea, and chocolate, all of which was from Equal Exchange, which is a fair trade company. We decided to start with that so people could get a taste of what fair trade is like. On Wednesday, Peace Action talked about conflict-free technology and minerals, since they wanted to bring their own extension to what fair trade is. And on Thursday, we have pumpkin decorating for Halloween and fair-trade candy. The point of that is we want to show how chocolate is scary, due to all the labor that goes into making these chocolates and the unsafe conditions they have to go through. We want to provide a different presentation on the issue.”

“People have been asking a lot of questions about this,” Grenbehok said, “like how buying the products affects the workers, how they impact people’s lives in general, the benefits of buying local, and where they could find fair trade products on campus.”  

One of the other topics brought up was farmer’s wages. Under fair trade rules, “If a farmer’s crops are ruined because of unpredictable weather,” Grenbehok said, “they will still get the enough to support themselves and their families as if the crop went as normal.”

Another topic brought up was conflict-free minerals and technology, “In some third-world countries, minerals that make up our technology are dug up by women and children that are abused and mistreated. The companies that we promote only get their resources from ethically sourced areas, where workers are paid a fair wage and free from employer abuse. We’re getting the message out there that you can make a conscious choice in the products you buy.”

Some of the collaborative efforts in the future between USA’s JUSTICE Committee and Peace Action include a Hunger Banquet on 11 Nov. to raise awareness for disparity and poverty around the world and compiling a Christmas shopping guide for local businesses that sell fair trade goods.

As of now, all of Canisius’ clubs, except for C-Block, have to order their t-shirts through fair trade or sweatshop-free companies as per the Sweatshop Bill that was passed back in 2013. But Grenbehok said that hasn’t been upheld for the most part. “What most people don’t realize is that fair trade shirts and the regular shirts clubs order are around the same price, which was what most people had an issue with. And lately, that just hasn’t been a top priority for USA to enforce, so it’s gotten kind of lost in the shuffle.”

In the future, the USA JUSTICE Committee hopes to get Canisius fair-trade certified by the end of the school year, which is something that schools obtain by offering fair trade options across campus outlets. “Chartwells would have to have fair trade options in the dining hall,” Grenbehok stated. “The bookstore already has some fair trade options there, but it wouldn’t be too difficult to get more in there.”

“With certification, we would need to pass a USA resolution to properly be a fair trade school, along with faculty senate and administration passing resolutions as well,” Grenbehok said. “We want everyone on board with this.”


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