USF hosts Poverty and the Americas conference listen02/04/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Today the Poverty in the Americas conference concluded at the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus. It stressed the relationship between poverty in South America and the daily lives of their neighbors to the north.
If you knocked back a cup of coffee this morning, it may have come from beans grown in Columbia. If you stirred in a little sugar, it might have started out in a Brazilian cane field. Many of those working on South American plantations live in poverty despite the patronage of corporations profiting from their labor. Patricia Rodriguez of Ithaca College said corporations from the north operating in South America often conduct campaigns touting their social responsibility.
She said she questions the honesty of such campaigns.
Along with disappointing results when it comes to corporate responsibility comes activism among the workers. This comes by way of unionization and other movements, sometimes violently, and sometimes without incident. Priscilla Claeys of France’s University of Louvain said one of these is the multi-nation food sovereignty movement.
She said the movement applies on many social and political levels.
On the consumer end, many are left in the dark as to where product components came from, let alone the living and working conditions of those employed in fields and factories. In the West, some opt to pay slightly more for items certified to have been produced in an ethical manner. The concept has roots in the days after World War II. Brown University’s Elizabeth Bennett said it’s now best known as Fair Trade.
You can now find fair trade coffee and chocolate at major retailers, which Bennett says serves as a disconnect among those who support workers’ right in South America.
Bennett said the most heated conflict is whether certification itself is compatible with the Fair Trade system.
The conference drew academics from across the globe. New College student Lucia Stavig said, given the US’s role in working conditions worldwide, it’s easy to see why.
She said the US’s role in Latin America is evident even in domestic US politics.
The Poverty and the Americas Conference examined the plight of poor and indigenous people in Latin American nations, and how they fight against the corporate and state powers that govern their lives. It ran from February second through the fourth, and featured panelists from across the globe.