I would like to hope that Lily Yan’s important column on slavery yesterday (“More subtle today, slavery still exists,” March 31) will prove the spark that reignites a bonfire of student interest in fair trade practices. Though a lot of indentured servitude is agricultural, there is also much bonded labor associated with manufacturing, and we could have a significant impact on this if we had a strong-voiced student-run fair trade organization. Perhaps college students themselves occupy too small a segment of the buying public to influence manufacturers directly, but the college students of today are the larger-scale consumers of tomorrow, and a movement to raise consciousness of exploitative conditions could mushroom from modest campaigns to major efforts to buy fair trade certified items — items made by manufacturers who are paying decent wages.
Yale student initiative is responsible for the conversion to fair-trade coffee in the dining halls. But this must prove only the beginning. With student initiative, we could not only see a Broadway filled with shops that sell only fair-trade manufactured jeans and T-shirts, but a whole American economy oriented to globalization conditional on minimum standards of decent wages and working conditions. An international organization of investigation and certification would also provide handsome service employment to graduating students eager to act on their principles.
The writer is the Karl Young professor of English.