Thursday, May 26, 2011

Maria Louzon's Journey to a Fair Trade University

Maria Louzon at University Maryland, College Park epitomizes the college Fair Trade activist. She organizes a Fair Trade awareness event on campus at least once a month and right now is in the midst of a campaign to bring Alta Gracia, a Fair Trade collegiate apparel brand, to the student body. She's also been involved in an ongoing Drop Daycon campaign to put pressure on her university to stop sourcing from one of the countries top suppliers of sanitation and cleaning products because of their poor labor practices. It's amazing what a group of small dedicated minds can do!

I was reminded of my Fair Trade activism during university when I stumbled upon her work, so I rang her up to hear more about her story and get ideas for ways to bring that energy to universities here in Portland. The fire of young people is needed to help mobilize awareness of the Fair Trade movement in Portland!

Maria's Fair Trade Discovery

Maria first heard about Fair Trade at 16, when she attended a social justice immersion trip through the Archdiocese of Baltimore. She experienced poverty, lived meagerly for a week and saw firsthand the struggles of women and families in her community. Her sheltered upbringing at an all girls private Catholic High School hadn’t prepared her for the injustice she saw happening all around. A talk from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) about Fair Trade and the exploitation of workers in international trade was the turning point that made her want to stand up and advocate for the movement.

“I began to form my own definition of what social justice was and I didn’t understand why Fair Trade hadn’t been universally adopted earlier,” she added.

She announced her commitment statement at the end of the week to advocate for Fair Trade and raise awareness in schools and churches by organizing Fundraiser Coffee and Chocolate Sales.

Maria started organizing sales at her church and as interest grew, began her search for a socially responsible university to enroll in. After a trial period at John Carroll University, she settled at the University of Maryland. At John Carroll, she had an internship with CRS to promote Fair Trade on campus At the University of Maryland, she has worked to promote Fair Trade through the support of the Catholic Student Center.

Now, she’s the Northeast and MidAtlantic Regional Coordinator for United Students for Fair Trade (USFT) and is helping to lead the Fair Trade University campaign. The University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh became America's first Fair Trade University back in 2008 and since then USFT has been working with a coalition of grassroots leaders in the US Fair Trade movement to launch a larger campaign across the country.

Since then, Western Kentucky University, UC San Diego and Siena College in New York have joined Oshkosh as America's first official Fair Trade Universities.

As a sophomore at the University of Maryland, Maria got her university started by forming a Fair Trade group and applying for a grant to host Fair Trade Fundraiser Sales. This year, they organized a large marketplace on Earth Day in partnership with many student groups, Fair Trade organizations and businesses who sent them products, donated Fair Trade samples and supported the event. Proceeds from the sales are donated to the DC Central Kitchen, a local non profit that provides meals to homeless and hungry.

She’s formed partnerships with other like minded student organizations and helped bring kids out of the wood work who are taking interest in the Fair Trade movement.

Her ultimate goal with the Fair Trade University campaign is getting universities to adopt a socially responsible contracting policy statewide.

Fair Trade University in Portland?

It’s a grand one, we think, and AWAZ would love to see a similar movement here in Oregon. Oregon is well-known for being one of the most progressive and sustainable cities, but we’re really lacking on the social justice home front. Portland has one of the highest rates of sex trafficking, homelessness and many seasonal immigrants working in poor conditions on corporate farms like Tyson, not to mention the number of name brand companies headquartered here known for sweatshop production. It’s really time to start talking Buy Local, Eco-friendly AND Fair Trade in the same conversation!

We mobilized the Northwest Fair Trade Coalition that we formed in Portland last year to start a Fair Trade Towns campaign, but this requires a large effort with support from many partners. With the formation of a university student group, we could work together and support eachother in solidarity and resources to make a larger impact.

AWAZ is calling upon students at Portland's universities to take action! If anyone is interested in inviting us for a talk or to discuss more, we'd love to work with you!

Contact Sarah at

Criteria for becoming a Fair Trade University:

  1. Form a Fair Trade Committee
  2. Make Fair Trade products available in university-owned/operated outlets as well as included in service contracts wherever possible
  3. Use Fair Trade products at internal university meetings, events hosted by the university and in university offices
  4. Develop a Fair Trade Resolution and Fair Trade Procurement Policy
  5. Commit to Fair Trade education, awareness-raising and growth of the Fair Trade campaign