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Fair Trade Isn’t Just For Coffee

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CREDIT: Flickr/Travis S

Our guest blogger is Sarah Helinek, a young environmentalist in DC.

As members of the Millennial Generation, we define ourselves by technology. Unfortunately, many of the metals utilized in electronics (gold for hard drives, copper and silver used for memory chips) are extracted through massive mines in foreign countries, often causing extreme harm to the local environment and public health.

We can trace the shipping of a new laptop hour by hour from Shanghai, but tracing the path of its metal components is trickier and can leave us blissfully ignorant.

In Peru, for instance, the extraction of metal has long dominated the country’s economic, political, and physical landscape, and has resulted in a perpetual dependence on investments from multinational corporations.

Since the dawn of its colonial occupation, Peru’s people and ecosystems have been poisoned by mining, and continue to be poisoned today. Though Peru’s new president was elected on the promise of mitiga poverty and social tension in the country—problems that are often exacerbated by mining—he has failed to do so, and conflict in the country has increased. As consumers of global goods, we are implicated in this situation and have a responsibility to push for the end of destructive mining.  

Though it may seem unrealistic that one generation can alter the economics of oppression, numerous cases prove otherwise. Take Georgetown University, where an organization called Georgetown Students for Fair Trade recognized the plight of global coffee farmers and the environmental destruction caused by intensive coffee farming. By educating their fellow classmates and working with the university’s administration, the group was successful in getting all of the cafeterias, as well as several independent operators on campus, to serve only Fair Trade coffee.

It may seem more difficult to get educated on the world’s myriad of metals than on coffee beans, but No Dirty Gold is one informative campaign on the environmental, social, and economic impacts of gold and other precious metal mining. The campaign’s website provides tools for readers to learn about which retailers sell “dirty gold,” and to demand that retailers who have not already done so, sign a commitment to follow the “Golden Rules” and stop the cycle of destructive mining.

The progress exemplified by these efforts is vital to a new economic paradigm. As a generation defined by what we consume, it is our obligation to demand more information about the products we purchase, and to make responsible decisions about those purchases. It may seem infeasible to persuade powerful corporations to reveal the true nature of their production chains. But we, as educated buyers, hold the power of the purse and the power to influence how the world’s resources, both physical and human, are impacted by our consumption.

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