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TCU 360

TCU 360

All TCU. All the time.

TCU 360

The Skiff Orientation Edition: Welcome, Class of 28!
The Skiff Orientation Edition: Welcome, Class of '28!
By Georgie London, Staff Writer
Published May 13, 2024
Advice from your fellow Frogs, explore Fort Worth, pizza reviews and more. 

Caffeine High

Americans drink a lot of coffee. More than 150 million Americans drink coffee, and the United States is the largest importer of coffee. Many coffee producing countries are some of the poorest in the world, and they depend heavily on the coffee trade for revenue. The market price for coffee today is 45 cents per pound, which is below the cost of production, according to the United Students for Fair Trade Web site. According to the Starbucks Web site, the coffee company sells imported coffee starting from at least $9 per pound. These small-scale coffee farmers sell their products to local middlemen and receive 2 percent to 4 percent of the retail price of their products, according to the USFT site. The results are increased unemployment, poverty and hunger among farmers, the site contends

Fair trade certification sets coffee prices at a $1.41 per pound minimum as well as ridding middlemen and brokers from the trade process leaving farmers with a larger share of the profits.

Although coffee is in the forefront of the fair trade picture because it is the second most traded commodity after petroleum, according to the Transfair USA Web site, it doesn’t stop there. Fair trade arches over an array of agricultural goods as well as sweatshop policies. A 2004 article in The New York Times shed light on the issue through a story about Costa Rican workers making baseballs for Rawlings Sporting Goods. According to the article, the laborers work 11 hours a day making four balls an hour, hand-sewing 108 stitches along the seams of each ball. They are paid on average about 30 cents a ball – Rawlings sells them for $14.99 in the United States.

Anti-sweatshop activists have been demanding higher wages, safer working conditions and basic rights for manual laborers.

However, not everyone agrees that fair trade and anti-sweatshop principles are solutions to the discrepancies unskilled workers face. Here, members of the university in different areas of study examine the issue: an economics professor, an assistant political science professor, a Frogs for Fair Trade member and a history and political science major.

Fair trade as a charity

Tyler Fultz, senior history and political science major, said if people are paying these producers more than what the market is paying them, then it is a charity. “Because that’s more than what is required of us as consumers.”

Douglas Butler, economics professor, said people are concerned there are others whose incomes aren’t as high as they should be, so they want to supplement those low incomes. “And this is charity. What’s wrong with saying it’s charity? It’s a good thing to be charitable.”

Carrie Currier, assistant political science professor, said, “I don’t think it’s a charity.” Fair trade, she said, is about moral responsibility. It’s a way of being socially responsible and thinking about what can be done to help the rest of the world also have a living, she said.

Seth Harris, international economics and political science major and Frogs for Fair Trade member, said if fair trade were a charity, the analogy would be when buying a product that isn’t fair trade certified, “you’re giving charity for a CEO to buy a third home,” because the company is getting more of the money. It’s a matter of distribution.

Sweatshops

Fultz said the conditions at these sweatshops are indeed harsh; however, the workers want these jobs because nothing else is available. Sweatshops, he said, are “a necessary evil on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.” Governments of the developing countries need to stand up for their people.

Butler said the sweatshop situation will improve as the competition for labor rises in developing countries by raising wages and the quality of working conditions. Some people, he said, simply don’t have much opportunity, and these sweatshops represent one more option that they didn’t have.

Currier said, “It’s about corporate responsibility.” Multinational corporations, she contended, can still provide labor in developing countries without exploiting workers. If Nike pays its Indonesian worker $4 instead of $2 to make a pair of Nike shoes and sell those shoes for $40, the corporation is still making a large profit. “The problem is that you have the wealthiest that are unwilling to give a little way to help the bottom,” she said

The Answer

Fultz argued that the developed world, especially United States and Europe, needs to stop lavishing its own farmers with subsidies so farmers in the developing world can compete. An economic condition, he said, needs to be created that will allow the producers to earn what they deserve, “rather than counting on rich teenagers to give to them.”

Currier believes fair trade is an important start. If, at the very least, fair trade allows these farmers to expand their production, she said, then the farming sector would require fewer individuals. These communities might be able to focus more money on education and the industrial transition that the developed countries went through.

Harris said fair trade is not the entire answer but a partial one. He said any one movement, one aspect, one growth model is not going to bring countries out of poverty and toward development. Fair trade is not about saving people, he said. It’s more of a realization that somebody is at the other end of the product and other people need to be able to making enough money so they can consume as well.

Government imposition of fair trade principles

Fultz said if the United States cuts itself off from non-fair trade products, it would simply go elsewhere and would find other suppliers. Government imposition of fair trade values would further harm the developing world, he said.

Butler believes the demand for products made in sweatshops would significantly drop and “suddenly, these people who supposedly aren’t getting fair wages may have to get much crappier jobs.”

Currier said, “You have to change the attitude. You can’t just force it.” Not having regulations imposed, she argued, allows for different kinds of choices. If more companies and consumers embrace the fair trade practice, then it would be a choice people make because they believe in the principles behind it.

Harris said, “Why not experiment?” Start with one product, like tea, and see what happens.

Free trade and fair trade

Fultz said, “Free trade is a good thing as long as it’s conducted on a level playing field, and the thing is right now, it’s not.” The International Monetary Fund and World Bank tear down a lot of trade barriers – tariffs, import quotas, subsidies – that developing countries put up, he said. But because the developed countries have more power and influence, they retain their own trade barriers, which makes free trade unequal.

Harris said fair trade is not against free trade. It’s the realization, he said, that although there are losers and winners in capitalism, it must not be to the extent that the losers can’t live. It’s an acknowledgement that people are more than consumers; consumers are also workers and they need basic necessities and rights.

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