October 10, 2005 | Myrna Anderson

The seminar, the first event of the year for Calvin's Social Justice Committee (SJC), was a tutorial on fair trade practices in the global coffee market.

At the second annual Seminar on Fair Trade, held in early October in the Commons Lecture Hall at Calvin College, coffee served as both menu and topic.

The seminar, the first event of the year for Calvin's Social Justice Committee (SJC), was a tutorial on fair trade practices in the global coffee market.

The SJC, in conjunction with the Student Life division, stocked tables full of fair trade literature and kept the socially conscious coffee flowing for the 60-plus attendees.

The SJC representatives were pleased with the turnout on a night when Calvin hosted three events.

The evening included two speakers well-acquainted fair trade practices: Jason Fileta, who graduated Calvin in 2005 and now works as a field organizer for the Christian Reformed Church’s office of social justice and hunger action, and Chris Treter, the owner of Lake Leelanau-based Higher Grounds, the only 100-percent fair trade coffee company in Michigan.

Between them, Fileta and Treter gave an overview of the inequities of the coffee market worldwide.

Fileta distributed bags of Skittles to the audience that represented the percentages of profit each player in a coffee transaction receives from a $1 coffee purchase.

While "distributors" got 35 candies and "roasters" and "coyotes" received 30 candies each, the representative "farmers" in the audience got only five, symbolizing the mere five cents actual coffee farmers receive for a cup of coffee for which they grew the beans.

"Hopefully," Fileta said simply before he sat down, "that gives us an idea of why there's a need for fair trade."

Fileta said he developed his awareness of trade injustice during a Calvin semester studying in Honduras, where he realized that underdeveloped countries supplied many of the goods he used everyday, to the detriment of the suppliers.

"If the people making my clothes and making my food aren't my neighbors," he says, "I don't know who is."

Treter told the story of his quest to work in social justice, a journey that led him in 2001 to visit a coffee cooperative in the village of La Estacion in Chiapas, Mexico.

"I viewed myself as a human rights observer," said Treter, (who had pioneered fair trade buying in his dining hall in grad school.)

He went to speak at the local church.

"They rang the bell to the church when I came there. They presented me as a coffee buyer."

Treter expected a friendly meeting.

"Instead," he recalls, "the men pointed a finger at me and said, 'Listen, you live in a country that drinks most of our coffee—and we're dying here. You have to buy our coffee.'"

Treter returned home and, that same year, launched Higher Grounds, a company that pays above fair trade prices for coffee and uses premiums to finance social justice projects in underdeveloped countries.

Fileta urged the assembled to buy fair trade products whenever possible.

"When you’re presented with two options, you can make yourself a part of a whole new economic order."

One handy way to support fair trade, sophomore SJC organizer Amy Jonason reminded the students, was to drink from the fair trade urn in Calvin’s dining hall.

"“Drain that urn dry every time," she said.

The SJC has been working for several years on a project to convert the Calvin campus to fair trade practices.

Other upcoming SJC efforts include a repeat in late October of last year’s Peter Fish Campaign, which netted $6,300 for two organizations that combat world hunger.

"We’re getting some enthusiastic people. They're great," says SJC member Ruth Ribeiro of this year's membership.

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