Students promote fair trade and anti-slavery practices in Columbia businesses

Saturday, July 17, 2010 | 6:10 p.m. CDT; updated 2:46 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 19, 2010

*The last name of OptFair intern Lisa Lovello was incorrectly spelled in an earlier version. **OptFair is considering working with My Green Cities to create a map that would locate fair trade stores in Columbia. An earlier version said they were considering working with a different organization.

COLUMBIA — This summer, six Columbia high school students and eight college interns are participating in a student-led campaign to promote and expand the sale of fair trade goods in downtown Columbia.

“In simple terms, fair trade is transparency of the product," OptFair campaign director Nadege Uwase said. "From artist to vendor to customer, you know where the product is coming from.”

In association with the Global Issues Leadership Development program, Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition and MU Stop Traffic, the OptFair campaign is advocating for socially responsible business practices, including fair trade and buying goods closer to home. It is working with businesses that do anything to help end slavery anywhere in the production process.

In fair trade, artisans and farmers receive a fair price for their products and work in safe environments. Forced labor, a type of human trafficking, is prohibited. Fair trade also aims to eliminate the middleman and deal directly with the producers of goods whenever possible.

"The OptFair campaign is important because it's going to make an impact locally in Columbia, as well as in communities abroad," OptFair head marketing intern *Lisa Lovello said. 

It’s important for merchants and consumers to know the sources of their products, said Jessica Canfield, executive director of Mustard Seed Fair Trade.

“Fair trade is a preventive measure when it comes to the issue of human trafficking,” she said.

Rock Bridge students participating in OptFair come from the school's Global Issues Club, which works with the Global Issues Leadership Development. In the club, students pick a topic about which they are interested in learning, then a country and an organization.

This past year, the students chose to look at human trafficking, which the U.S. Department of State describes as forced labor, sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery. During the first semester, the students focused on human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and raised money for Heal Africa, which helps survivors of sexual violence.

In the second semester, the emphasis was on human trafficking and fair trade in India. Then, the group worked to raise money for Free the Children, which works to free children from sweatshop labor and education them.

“We’re here to advocate for people who can’t advocate for themselves,” Uwase said.

There are four full fair-trade stores in Columbia: Mustard Seed Fair Trade and gifts shops at the MU Anthropology Museum, First Christian Church  and Community United Methodist Church. Many coffee shops, such as Dunn Brothers, Kaldi's, Lakota and Starbucks, offer fair trade coffee, Uwase said.

The campaign members plan to use blogging and social media to communicate their message to the community. Uwase said they hope to hold a benefit concert toward the end of the summer and are considering working with **My Green Cities to create a map that would locate the fair trade stores in Columbia.

Uwase said fair trade is important because it promotes freedom.

“Freedom to me is not just about the shackles," she said. "It’s about living in a way that respects and enhances other people’s freedom.”

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Martin Patt July 18, 2010 | 3:56 p.m.

The fight to end human trafficking and slavery must be fought on many fronts, and the OPTFair Campaign is certainly one of them. By introducing fair trade, a serious blow is given to forced labor. The campaign is a good one and the time is well spent. - Prof Patt,

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