Introducing the First Fair Trade High School in America

by Tim Newman November 23, 2010 02:29 PM (PT) Topics: Child Labor, Fair Trade, Slave Labor, Workers’ Rights

Congratulations to the Emma Willard School in Troy, New York on becoming the first official Fair Trade high school in the United States. This private school for girls will now be including Fair Trade options in the school’s dining facilities, at catered events and in its offices and store. And this historic decision all happened due to the hard work of some inspiring young activists and their faculty supporters.

According to Robert Naeher, Chair of the school’s History and Social Studies Department, several students became interested in the issue of forced labor around the world after hearing Benjamin Skinner, author of the book A Crime So Monstrous, speak in their community. Naeher and his students felt compelled to take action to stop modern day slavery and formed an organization at Emma Willard called Slavery No More.

The students and faculty involved with Slavery No More decided to focus on shifting their school’s food purchases to Fair Trade Certified products to ensure the money they spend at school is used to support workers and farmers. As Natalia Choi, a student and co-founder of Slavery No More said that the decision to become a Fair Trade school was easy since Fair Trade empowers people and communities.

Slavery No More worked extensively with the National Fair Trade University Steering Committee on their campaign. This coalition of representatives from campuses, students and nonprofit organizations is working to promote Fair Trade at schools across the country and is a great resource for other schools interested in joining the Emma Willard School in its commitment to Fair Trade. Slavery No More’s campaign included a lot of education, organizing and negotiation. As Naeher explained:

“Students made and put up posters around the school, shared information and video clips at our Morning Reports time (all-school period for announcements), hosted a couple of movie nights where information was again shared, had bake sales to raise funds for anti-slavery organizations, presented their proposal at a faculty meeting and obtained a unanimous vote of support from the faculty, presented their proposal to our School Council and again obtained a unanimous vote of support, met with Director of Dining Services and the school’s Chief Financial Officer to get their input on the feasibility of what they were proposing, made a formal presentation of their proposal to the Board of Trustees, and worked for several months in conjunction with one member of the Board to provide additional information and revise some aspects of the proposal to meet Board concerns.”

The hard work and determination of these student activists impressed the school’s administration as well. Trudy Hall, Head of the School, said,

“This accomplishment is precisely what comes of empowering young women to pursue their passion and commitment to making the world turn better. Our young women put their education to work on behalf of those whose voices need to be heard; they are living the mission of this school, serving and shaping their world.”

Hopefully, the students at Emma Willard will inspire others to join them in making their high schools Fair Trade. Naeher has some great advice for those interested in launching similar campaigns at their schools: “Be patient, do your homework, be willing to listen carefully so that you can understand others’ concerns, be creative and have fun in thinking about how best to communicate information about Fair Trade, communicate information in a variety of ways, give people easy ways to get involved (supply fair trade baked goods for a fund raiser, help make information posters, etc.), and recognize that small steps add up to big ones.”

Let’s hope Emma Willard’s Fair Trade status is just one small step for high schools around the world. Congratulations to the students of Slavery No More and their faculty and non-profit supporters!

Photo credit: UpstateNYer

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