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Victory for student group after Aramark OKs fair trade coffee

Campus group Students for Social Justice (SSJ) struck a deal with Aramark, USF’s food service provider, to serve fair trade coffee. The agreement will bring fair trade coffee to all Aramark food services on campus.

Vice president of SSJ Lauren Maxwell said the group initially met with Aramark in June 2007 to discuss the agreement that will begin this fall. She said the deal is a big step forward for the group and will assist countries exploited by large corporations.

“They’re getting unfair wages for their products that they’re trying to export and trying to make a livelihood,” said Lauren Maxwell, vice president of SSJ and senior international studies major.

Aramark was already serving a few fair trade products at Einstein Bros. Bagels, Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s, but will move to selling primarily fair trade coffee at these locations, said Mary Williams, marketing program manager for Aramark and USF Dining Services. Williams didn’t announce which company Aramark would be purchasing its coffee from, however.

“The Bulls Den Café and the Fresh Food Company, along with our Java City location at the College of Business Administration, are just a few locations where we have made significant strides to promote the Fair Trade Certified products,” she said.

Fair Trade Certification sets up a direct business connection between the producers and businesspeople, breaking down the business chain and cutting out unnecessary middlemen. This allows the profit to go back to the small producer and the developing country, enabling them to make a more livable wage and a fair profit.

SSJ has been on campus for about a year, and its primary focus is fair trade. In addition to these goods being offered at all food services on campus, SSJ would like to see advertisements clearly stating that they are being served.

“We have increased our selection of fair trade coffee at the University of South Florida and offer it at every coffee location on campus,” Williams said. “We spoke with Students for Social Justice and let them know that we are switching our coffee being served at the Bulls Den Café and the Fresh Food Company from partially EcoGrounds to fully EcoGrounds.”

The campaign began with Maxwell’s search for a way to impact the world.

“Through research I found out fair trade was a more tangible way for people to be powerful,” Maxwell said. “(It’s) not like they really have to change that much about their lives, but it’s still socially conscious. It empowers communities across the world.”

TransFair USA, a non-profit organization, is the only independent third-party certifier of fair trade products in the U.S. Part of its regulations include audits to make sure producers get a fair livable wage and assure that a premium goes back into the community.

TransFair’s audit system tracks products every step of the way, verifying industry compliance with fair trade criteria.

The farmer groups are guaranteed a minimum floor price and an additional premium for certified organic products. Fair labor conditions are regulated, making sure organizations stay democratic and transparent.

Premiums are required to go back into the communities, who then decide how to use the money. Some examples include opening a community health clinic or a school or starting scholarship programs.

TransFair USA’s Fair Trade Certification is available in the U.S. for coffee, tea, herbs, cocoa, chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice and vanilla.

Maxwell and the SSJ encourage students to purchase fair trade products whenever they can. All fair trade products are labeled with a black and white logo with little person stating Fair Trade Certified. The symbol means it has been audited, meets standards and is guaranteed to be fair trade.

“I feel like this is a way we can eradicate a lot of poverty in the world, a lot of suffering in the world,” Maxwell said. “It’s not a charity, it’s not foreign aid. It’s a way that we’re empowering people economically.”