Inquiring Minds: Optional Fair Trade coffee insults the idea of justice

It took long enough, but Eastern finally has the Fair Trade option. There’s only one catch: students have to want it.

Under SPEAK’s current agreement with Sodexho, unless students are willing to pay the extra 50 cents for a cup of coffee, the deal is off. And SPEAK won’t always be sitting outside Walton Hall to reimburse students a quarter for choosing to buy Fair Trade coffee. In a week or two, most people will forget all about it, reflexively choosing the cheaper alternative.

This isn’t good enough. Fair Trade, introduced simply as an option, means that we think unfair trade is an acceptable option too.

The current situation is similar to a dispute about justice practices here three years ago. A group of students, working with sociology professor Sherrie Steiner, pushed the administration to buy only wind power for Eastern. But the effort met opposition from some students and administrators.

A compromise was reached: Paying the wind energy fee became an option on each student’s bill. That looks like the equivalent of the new coffee options: either cheap unjust coffee or expensive Fair Trade coffee, the individual’s choice.

The essential question was – and is – is it right for the moral choice of a few students to be forced upon everybody in the school? In the wind power situation, we decided that the answer was “no.”

But there is a big difference between wind energy and fairly-traded coffee: There are serious questions about how much it helps the environment to pay big power companies lots of money to develop profitable technologies that kill thousands of birds every year. There are no questions about whether it’s good to pay subsistence coffee farmers enough money for their families to survive.

This shouldn’t even be an option at Eastern, any more than our practice of paying a living wage to the housekeeping staff should be. By making it just an option, we as an institution say that it is at least sort-of acceptable to keep people in subjugation in Central America.

Bringing in Fair Trade, in a truly serious way, is essential to what Eastern is all about. Without it, we don’t deserve the “Justice” part of our slogan. We are just another rich American Christian college.

Inquiring Minds is the collective opinion of the editorial staff and not necessarily representative of the entire staff. It is written by the managing editor and the editor-in-chief.

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