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The Quad: Purchasing fair trade at UCLA supports ethically sound practices

Fair trade coffee is available at some UCLA cafes for a small additional fee. (Dayoung Lee/Daily Bruin)

By Molly Wright

March 9, 2017 6:09 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated all coffee shops at UCLA use Artisan Collection by Farmer Brothers brand of coffee. In fact, only ASUCLA operated shops use the brand.

This post was updated on March 12 on 1:20 p.m.

As I begrudgingly wake up for my dreaded 8 a.m., I have one thing on my mind as I rub the sleep from my eyes: coffee.

There are a variety of locations on the Hill and on campus to make sure no student arrives to class without caffeine coursing through their veins. The Study, Café 1919 and Bruin Café as well as dining halls are all available for students making the trek from the Hill. On campus, options include Kerckhoff Coffeehouse, the Northern and Southern Lights cafes, Cafe 451, Untitled and Bruin Buzz for those who need a pick-me-up right before class.

[ICYMI: Coffee corners: A quick rundown on some of the coffee shops at UCLA]

In light of ongoing fair trade movements and pressure on big companies – hey, Starbucks – consumers are now supposedly more aware of the kinds of practices businesses engage in. As I look down at my almost empty cup on the way to class, I wonder about about the coffeehouses on campus. Do we support fair trade and ethical business practices?

Although UCLA has achieved fair trade university status, the popular, cheap options at coffee shops on campus are still not ethically sourced.

It was difficult to elicit a response from a lot of campus coffee sources, but a large bag of beans plopped in front of me at Cafe 451 provided the answers: the Artisan Collection by Farmer Brothers. All coffee spots on campus run by ASUCLA use the same brand of coffee.

Upon inspection of the bag, a red flag appeared – no fair trade logo. This means that the direct producers of these coffee beans may not be ensured fair pay, contributing to a lower quality of life and forcing many to live in poverty. Fair trade also sets economic, social and environmental standards to hold businesses accountable, as its goal is transparency and respect.

Chris Hunter, a third-year international development studies student and the fair trade co-coordinator for E3, a sustainability club on campus, said that fair trade is meant to ensure humane, sustainable practices and enable workers to live above the poverty line.

However, the bag did have a Rainforest Alliance Certified logo. The little frog logo on the beans means the product adheres to environmental and agricultural sustainability. Rainforest Alliance Certified means that at least 30 percent of the beans are from certified farms, whereas fair trade requires 100 percent compliancy.

While the product may be environmentally sound, the lack of a fair trade logo means that up to 70 percent of the beans could come from farms that are not necessarily humane or sustainable. As a student and proponent for well-being and sustainability, this is troubling information. Farmers often receive meager earnings for processing the beans that contain the caffeine that propels us through our afternoon slump.

[Related: Coffee Cultured: A taste of the Los Angeles coffee scene]

However, coffee shops on campus have pushed for a shift toward fair trade in recent years. Kerckhoff Coffee House, Untitled, Cafe 451 and Cafe Synapse all offer a separate fair trade coffee option for 21, 28 or 36 cents extra, depending on the size. For example, a small non-fair trade cafe latte option at Kerckhoff Coffeehouse costs $3.10, while the fair trade option costs $3.31.

“Every outlet on campus offers at least two fair trade products, sometimes more,” Hunter said. “Most ASUCLA stores also offer Numi Tea, Divine Chocolate and Wholesome Sweetener, which are all fair trade. All coffee in the dining halls is fair trade.”

The shift into fair trade hasn’t been groundbreaking, but the option is there for students who want to support it.

“I don’t know what fair trade coffee is,” said Krista Chen, a first-year undeclared student. “I feel like the concept could be better advertised.”

The movement into fair trade has made its way into campus, albeit slowly. More information about fair trade would definitely benefit students by helping them make an informed choice when choosing their morning brew.

“Unfortunately, we don’t (feel like fair trade is advertised well on campus),” Hunter said. “Increasing awareness and visibility of fair trade is currently the biggest focus of the UCLA fair trade campaign.”

The club hopes to hold more events, including a free fair trade coffee option and a farmers’ market on campus, and wants to work with ASUCLA to improve the popularity of fair trade options.

Spending a few cents extra on fair trade will support workers earning a livable wage and sustainable farming practices, which are important for the world’s environment and economy. Making the shift from standard products to fair trade products could have a resounding impact, encouraging society to push for fair practices. Supporting the fair trade cause at UCLA will reinforce solidarity for a movement that wants to make sure workers don’t live in poverty and that farming practices won’t have lasting negative impacts.

With both non-fair and fair trade options available on campus, it comes down to personal choice of whether or not a student wants to shell out a little extra change for a more ethical option. College students are almost always on a budget, but personally, I don’t mind spending a little more knowing that my cup is ethically produced and is benefiting more than just my body after a night of no sleep.

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Molly Wright | Daily Bruin senior staff
Wright is a Daily Bruin senior staffer. Wright was the Quad editor during the 2019-2020 school year and assistant Quad editor during the 2018-2019 school year. She is a fourth-year communication and global studies student trying to cut down on her caffeine addiction.
Wright is a Daily Bruin senior staffer. Wright was the Quad editor during the 2019-2020 school year and assistant Quad editor during the 2018-2019 school year. She is a fourth-year communication and global studies student trying to cut down on her caffeine addiction.
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