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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMB: What’s In Our Coffee?

UMB students have taken up the call for campus java peddlers to add certified fair trade coffee to their selection of brews. The student club SOMOS, Student Organized Movement for Ownership Solutions, and the Human Rights Working Group have teamed up with Oxfam, Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, a non-profit organization that supports groups aiding the poor worldwide since the end of WWII, and the organizations are combining their resources to petition Sodexho to offer fair trade coffee on the UMB campus.

The Oxfam website states that “right now over 25 million coffee growers and their families face starvation due to the international coffee crisis.” The reason there is such a crisis, they say, is because, “Over the past three years, the price of coffee has fallen almost 50 percent, and now hovers near a 30-year low.”

The first company to offer fair trade coffee in the U.S. was Canton-based Equal Exchange. Starting in the mid eighties the company founders pioneered a new ethical path for coffee retailers. Equal Exchange has been able to compete effectively in the national market, according to The Boston Globe, “By purchasing coffee directly from farmer cooperatives, they eliminate middlemen who add to the wholesale price. They accept smaller profit margins, and they offer employees more modest salaries.” The modest salaries at the company are in comparison to their industry peers, some of which pay their executives upwards of $10 million a year, whereas Equal Exchange salaries top out at around $65,000 a year.

A common misconception about fair trade coffee is that it is a specific company or certain flavor of coffee. Over the last decade and a half many companies in the states, such as Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee, have started to offer fair trade coffee brews in a variety of flavors. The term “fair trade” only refers to the certification by a third party, TransFairUSA, that the farmers who grew the beans were paid at least the set minimum price, which enables the farmer to cover the costs of producing coffee.

If coffee producers are unable to cover their costs of production, than they-those that do not go out of business-will inevitably have to cut costs. Coffee bean quality will certainly suffer if producers do not have the resources to invest in maintaining soil control, pruning, and the general up-keep of coffee farms.

Coffee is the second largest import in the U.S. after oil, and the U.S. is the largest importer of coffee in the world, consuming one-fifth of the world’s coffee, according to the non-profit organization Global Exchange. It would seem that if companies are not able to buy coffee at the cheapest rate possible, currently only sixty percent of the cost of production, the cost would be passed on to consumers paying much higher prices for coffee. However, fair trade coffee in practice generally costs the same as other specialty and organic coffees and sometimes less.

SOMOS has been very successful in getting signatures for their petition on campus. However, the UMB community needs to come together now and support the initiative. Sodexho currently has vendors who carry fair trade coffee, but they need to be shown that it will actually sell on this campus. Fair trade coffee has proven successful on other campuses in the area, such as Boston College and Harvard University, and there is no reason why it would not be successful here at UMB. If people are interested in voicing their support or getting involved with the proposal they can contact UMB student Ashgar Syed at (617) 538-3299.