BuyWell Competes With Fair Trade

Alexander Golden

Sophomore Aaron Rosenbaum does not reflect the average college student. When he isn’t hitting the books, Rosenbaum works for BuyWell International, a Fair Trade coffee wholesaler founded by a group of students in 2006 interested in the Fair Trade model.

The company’s mission statement explains the company’s commitment to providing a fair living wage to indigenous growers and selling to consumers at a low price.

Fair Trade is an economic model designed to ensure that commodity producers receive a fair living wage for their work that frees them from some of the pressures of globalization.

Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world after oil, and is generally sold at a low price. It is common for multi-national firms to set up large coffee plantations in tropical countries with which smaller locally owned farms cannot compete. Workers on the large plantations are paid very little.

Unlike coffee companies like Starbucks, which own their own plantations, Fair Trade companies do not own the land on which their beans are grown; the local growers do, and these are cooperative farms, not plantations.

Cooperative farms operate similarly to corporations. Several people own shares of the cooperative, but all of the owners work on the cooperative and have equal shares. These shares are not shares of stock; the cooperative farmers receive money for their product.

Colgate University already buys Fair Trade certified coffee from Green Mountain through Sodexho, the contractor responsible for Colgate’s dining halls. BuyWell International hopes to replace Green Mountain by virtue of BuyWell’s lower prices.

As a Colgate student, Rosenbaum is responsible for these negotiations. BuyWell International’s presence on the Colgate campus has nothing to do with the planned Starbucks in Case Library — Rosenbaum’s plans to provide for Frank Dining Hall, the O’Connor Campus Center and the Edge Cafe. His involvement with BuyWell began fairly recently. The founders went to the same high school as Rosenbaum and hired some of his friends.

“The Founder, Jess Arnsteen, was a grade above me,” Rosenbaum said. “Last summer, they hired a friend of mine, Martin Happ, who told me about this new idea they had to sell organic coffee at a lower price than ever before.”

Despite his initial skepticism, Rosenbaum joined the company. The company presented at a trade show at the end of the summer of 2006 and began attracting investors and customers.

Rosenbaum brought BuyWell to Colgate as part of BuyWell’s expansion. He is not the only student working for BuyWell. Most BuyWell representatives are students.