We were happy to reconnect with United Students for Fair Trade and Natalie Yoon following Maria Louzon‘s departure last August. Natalie joins USFT as an Ohio State University alum, where she organized for ethical university apparel contracts and justice for campus food service workers as a member of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). She has also collaborated with student movements for environmental justice, public housing, LGBT rights, and access to affordable quality education. Natalie brings her experience with USAS and desire for a just economy to her National Coordinator position with USFT.
Ethix: Maria Louzon shared a bit about your experience organizing on campus around human rights issues. What organizations and/or experiences are you most proud of while you attended OSU?
Natalie Yoon: When I was at OSU I worked closely with United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). USAS taught me how to organize and work in solidarity with workers both in my community and abroad. I’m most proud of our campaign against Sodexo, the international food service provider that was abusing human rights on our campus. Throughout that campaign I learned so much about organizing strategy, the labor movement, coalition building, and the potential of student power to make real change happen.
Ethix: What was your previous experience and understanding of the fair trade movement? Why do you support fair trade?
Natalie Yoon: I always knew what fair trade was, but it wasn’t until I reached college that I began to understand why it is so important. By working in the student-labor movement and studying international relations in school, I began to understand the international economy and how it affects workers and producers on a local level. I learned about exploitation in supply chains, lack of corporate accountability, and how international economic policies have devastated much of the world. Fair trade offers the alternative model to the current exploitative system. It demonstrates the solution to worker and producer disempowerment. It proves that we can and must do better. I support fair trade not just as a market, but as a movement to revolutionize the entire global economy to be centered around people, not profit.
Ethix: What drew you to the National Organizer position and working as a full time activist at USFT?
Natalie Yoon: I see so much potential in the coordinated organizing of young people, and I really wanted to continue to be involved after graduation. United Students for Fair Trade is a great example of a group of students that are dedicated to building power to make change happen. I honestly still can’t believe that I got this dream position—I’m so grateful for each and every day that I get to do this work full-time! I’m so thrilled to be a part of this and support the student movement for fair trade and a just economy.
Ethix: What’s in store for USFT in the upcoming 2013-2014 academic year? Can you give us a sneak preview of some events or campaigns in the upcoming academic year?
Natalie Yoon: We just kicked off our “Topple the TPP” campaign against the Trans-Pacific Partnership! The TPP is a massive potential free trade agreement that threatens to make new rules for the global economy that will threaten human rights, the environment, and democracy. I’m excited to see trade justice issues brought back into the student movement, and I think this campaign will really highlight the need for fair trade policies. In addition to our movement against the TPP, this year we will be focusing on building a base of student leaders and structuring the organization in a sustainable way. Students will later determine the future direction of USFT and our next steps as an organization.
We look forward to your thoughts. You can also download the entire interview here.