Private, Student Life

Engineering Fair Trade Corner empowers global communities one cup of joe at a time

Located in a cozy nook between the Frank Dawson Adams Building and the McConnell Engineering Building near the University entrance, the Fair Trade Corner (FTC) is a hidden gem that offers organic and fair-trade beverages and pastries at an affordable cost.

The FTC operates Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., selling sweet snacks, hot coffee, and tea—all sourced from fair-trade dealers around the world. Started by the McGill chapter of Engineers Without Borders (MEWB), the entirely volunteer-run shop has helped increase the accessibility of fair-trade products on campus. MEWB’s ultimate goal is to contribute to sustainable international development, and selling food produced in developing countries in an equitable manner is a key step in realizing this.

On the global market, obtaining fair-trade certification from non-governmental organizations, like Fairtrade International, involves a process that ensures the farmers and workers who create the products have decent working conditions and receive fair wages. Each time a product is sold, a percentage of the profit—known as the Fairtrade Premium—goes directly toward farmers’ communities. This concept is widely deployed among the global fair-trade community; the premium is often used to develop a community’s infrastructure or provide them with necessities they need.

Among MEWB’s other events and initiatives—like the World’s Largest Fair Trade Bake Sale—shopping at the FTC is a way of challenging the status quo in global consumption, which often overlooks workers’ exploitation in the global market.

“[FTC’s attraction] really comes down to the fact that [we serve] sustainable, organic coffee,” Thomas Bahen, U2 Engineering student and FTC vice president, said. “So you know it is creating a positive impact in the community that grows it. It’s just really accessible, and it’s delicious coffee.”

Additionally, the FTC is completely donation-based. Rather than paying fixed prices for coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, customers contribute what they can. Fair-trade products are often expensive, but the FTC makes a consistent effort to keep the goods accessible and affordable for students. Moreover, the FTC uses a punch card system in which students receive a free cup of coffee for every five cups previously purchased. To incentivize eco-friendliness, customers who bring their own reusable mug receive two stamps each time they stop for coffee. Even so, the FTC remains a well-kept secret; many students simply don’t realize how available and open it is.

“[The café] is affordable,” Bahen said. “I see a long line at Dispatch every day and I don’t think people know they can get coffee for much cheaper just down the hall.”

Part of the secrecy of the FTC is in its corner space, which can be easy for the eyes to miss if rushing swiftly through the hallways of McConnell Engineering. According to Luna Taguchi, U2 Science student and venture lead of MEWB’s Fair Trade team, the origins of how FTC obtained this particular space are a mystery to even the team itself.

“[Our space] is one of the biggest [MEWB] mysteries ever because it used to be a porter’s office,” Taguchi said. “That’s why it has kind of a cozy atmosphere, but nobody in our chapter or team knows how we got the space in the first place. So, it’ll remain a mystery forever.”

For Taguchi, fair-trade is important because it ultimately leads to economic empowerment for the communities that produce and sell their commodities. The FTC prides itself in being a part of this development.

“Often small-scale farmers in the developing world are taken advantage of by private sectors,” Taguchi said. “I define fair-trade as a trading system that tries to address that issue [….] The [fair-trade] system creates a sense of autonomy amongst the farmers and works to empower them.”

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