Fair Trade Fair raise awareness about labor trafficking and sustainable practices

Photo by Ben Weiner
Photo by Ben Weiner

UMD Students Ending Slavery raised awareness about how human trafficking affects everyday life Wednesday at the Fair Trade Fair.

Many clubs and student organizations joined Students Ending Slavery in Stamp Student Union to share how modern day slavery, or human trafficking, affects their lifestyles, and to bring an understanding to students who have the opportunity to do something about it and make lifestyles adjustments accordingly.

“I hope people gain awareness that they can do something about labor trafficking and its victims even just by doing small things like buying from shops that sell fair trade goods and goods that were not made by labor trafficking victims,” said co-president of SES Aubrey Sneesby, a senior criminology major.

Kanta Mendon, a junior criminology and government and politics major and member of SES, believes too many people don’t realize or understand enough about human trafficking and do not believe it is still an issue in today’s society.

“They don’t think it’s a problem and believe slavery ended a really long time ago and people are not sold anymore, but it still happens all the time,” Mendon said.

For SES co-president Emily Long, a senior government and politics major, spreading awareness on human trafficking has been a longtime goal of hers.

“I had heard about human trafficking in high school and it drew my attention,” Long said. “I became really passionate about it before I got to college, and once I got to Maryland and I was at the First Look Fair it was the first club I wanted to get involved with.”

One of the groups at the Fair Trade Fair were representatives of the Public Leadership Scholars program, who are focusing their capstone project on getting College Park Scholars and other campus organizations to commit to giving out t-shirts that are through fair trade vendors.

Ryan Garfinkle, a sophomore government and politics major and Public Leadership Scholar, says the free shirts given away around campus, especially at sporting events, usually do not come from fair trade vendors, and his goal is to change this.

Another organization at the Fair Trade Fair was the Office of Sustainability.

Chris Weir, a freshman architecture major and intern in the sustainability office, hopes to educate other students about what they are eating, as well as how and where it was made.

“I want the Fair Trade Fair to get people to think before they eat anything,” Weir said. “When students go to the diner I hope they ask themselves, ‘Where could this have come from? What effect does eating this have on our community?’”

“One of the key things about being sustainable is eating food that is sustainable and we want to make sure that food comes from places that treat their workers fairly, that don’t have child labor, and generally pay their workers above minimum wage,” Weir said.

Other organizations at the fair included the Criminology and Criminal Justice Department, the Alternative Breaks program, Oxfam America CHANGE Initiative and the University of Maryland SAFE Center, a human trafficking drop-in center that opened this past May for survivors to heal and reclaim their lives.

“For me, the Fair Trade Fair is in awareness event above all else, and an empowerment event in a lot of ways too because all these organizations that are here are local and accessible to students, so if they want to get involved in any of these organizations they totally can,” Long said.

“I hope people learn that they are powerful and capable of using other means than slave labor to go about their daily lives,” Long said. “It’s easy to want to do the bargains and to get the $5 shirt, but if you think about it and where that shirt comes from it might be worth it to spend a little extra money.”

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