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Dear Friend,

Equal Exchange needs you.

As Equal Exchange turns 30 this year, and we reflect on the journey we have traveled, we are both immensely proud and infinitely concerned. We have accomplished more than we ever dreamed possible back in 1986. We have sparked enormous reform in the U.S. specialty coffee industry. And we have built a supply chain from scratch that, against all odds, gives small farmer co-ops a fighting chance and a seat at the table.

We are one of the largest and most successful worker co-ops in the country. We are one of the largest Alternative Trade Organizations (ATOs) in the world. But despite this success we know the path forward is more perilous than it has ever been.

The Fair Trade idea may have won success in the last 10 years, but that success has been very limited. And in the process of gaining recognition and support, control has been wrested from small farmers and turned into a marketing attribute at the service of northern companies; it has been commodified and stripped of all real meaning. While some northern ATOs are still here and hundreds of farmer groups in the Global South hang on, “Fair Trade” as envisioned 30 years ago is no longer recognizable.

We now know that we cannot possibly succeed in our goal to transform the food system without the active, deep, and committed participation of citizen-consumers like you. An authentic Fair Trade system requires democratic organizing of producers in the South, worker democracy for businesses in the North, and active citizen involvement in the North.

In the wider food system, corporations control everything from seeds to supply and prices, while relentlessly chipping away at the regulations that inform and protect consumers. They fight feverishly to prevent us from knowing if GMOs are present in our food. They continue to promote production methods that hasten the warming of the planet—a present day threat to millions of small farmers and others around the world. And, corporations count on consumers remaining unorganized to maintain the status quo.

For these reasons, we are taking a powerful, new step in building a democratic brand that connects small farmers in the South to citizen-consumers in the North. We believe that in order to be successful in realizing the original Fair Trade vision, we need to deepen involvement and participation in our model. In doing this we go back to the best that Alternative Trade has always been about: innovation, global solidarity, social imagining and learning, and economic justice. This will be a long, slow process and a great challenge. We need your buying support, your investing support, and your political support.

Please join us in building this dream. We invite you to help us shape a new initiative that we are launching this year: the Equal Exchange Action Forum.

Our vision is of a vibrant community of citizen-consumers, working together to deepen our collective understanding of these issues and taking actions where strategic. We imagine a focus on learning and sharing in the first year as together we give this initiative more form. Within the context of Equal Exchange’s mission, we will share the challenges and successes we experience in building supply chains for small farmers. Over time, we will take actions that challenge the corporate control of food, increase the market viability of small farmers and their co-operatives, and reshape our food system in ways that benefit all of us.

What are some issues we will engage in?

  • Lessons from our first 30 years:
    • The origins of authentic Fair Trade
    • Coffee co-operatives: the potential and the challenges of democracy
    • The Fair Trade system gone awry
  • From tea to nuts: the successes and setbacks in building small farmer supply chains
  • Climate change: can citizen-consumers help farmers survive this man-made assault on their livelihoods?
  • The corporatization of the food system:
    • Who owns the organic industry?
    • Can consumers retake control of our food?
    • How can we support independent businesses trying to survive the crush of corporate food consolidation?

What are the different forums for involvement? Early thoughts include:

  • Dedicated online space for members of the Action Forum
  • Webinars, podcasts and blogs
  • Seminars and other in-person educational events
  • Cookouts and social events
  • Direct actions including letter-writing and protest actions within the context of food politics, agriculture and trade, climate justice, and economic, social and political rights

How do I join?

Great question! We are looking for committed individuals who may be engaged with Equal Exchange around these issues at any number of levels. We have created a simple application with three different paths to join the Equal Exchange Action Forum. It only takes one, but you may qualify via one, two or even all three:

  • Supporter/Activist
  • Drinker/Eater of Equal Exchange products
  • Investor

Interested?  Apply here.

We are very excited to hear from you and to launch this new initiative with your support. Together, with our collective ideas, commitment and passion, let’s build a more just food system that works for small farmers, for consumers and for generations to come.

In solidarity,

 

Rink Dickinson & Rob Everts
Co-Presidents
Equal Exchange

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The following post was written by Daniel Fireside, Equal Exchange Capital Coordinator

What do interest rates have to do with the price of coffee? Why do we care and who decides these things anyway?

As many of you know, coffee is a commodity and as such, is traded on the stock market.  The Fair Trade system broke from the New York “C” market and set up its own, higher prices. Direct relationships allow producers to negotiate contract prices with their buyers.

When Equal Exchange bought our headquarters and roasting facility about a dozen years ago, we took out a mortgage with one of those big banks you’ve likely heard of, and they set our interest rate based on something called the London Interbank Offered Rate, or LIBOR.

At the ten year mark, however, we had a chance to refinance the loan and shop for a new lender. We found a social lender very much aligned with our cooperative and Fair Trade values, the nonprofit RSF Social Finance.  Several years ago, RSF broke with lending orthodoxy and decided that it wouldn’t use the LIBOR to set their interest rates. This was a prescient move, as there was a global scandal brewing which involved financial traders from major banks colluding to manipulate the interest rates for their own profits.

RSF began a more holistic process to determine interest rates that considers the needs and resources of all of its stakeholders. Rather than just plug in another abstract formula, RSF staff get input from actual stakeholders by holding meetings between groups of borrowers and lenders and then sets their interest rate accordingly.

Last year, Equal Exchange was asked to host one of those meetings at our headquarters. We gave a tour of our roasters, packing lines, offices, and warehouse with its thousands of pounds of Fair Trade organic coffee to a group of about two dozen mission-driven business leaders, individual and institutional lenders, and a few RSF staff that came out from the West Coast to facilitate. We all had a chance to make a case for what the interest payments meant to us.  Each person present was asked to consider what it would mean for everyone if their base rate went up or down. Even the RSF considered how they could lower their fees without impacting their ability to carry out their work. The feedback was taken back to RSF headquarters and provided to the loan committee.

John Bloom, VP of Organizational Culture at RSF, wrote a fascinating article that goes deeper into why the lender goes to these extraordinary lengths to set something so mundane, yet so important, as an interest rate.

For Equal Exchange, this is an important part of our approach to finance and everything we do here– one that involves transparency and consideration for the well-being of every stakeholder on all sides of an economic transaction.

Read the full article on the Huffington Post here.

“I Support Fair Trade,” says the banner.  World Fair Trade Day isn’t just celebrated here in the North.  All over the world, small farmer organizations also celebrate World Fair Trade Day at fairs, festivals, and other events.  Last Friday, Brenda Ceren, of Aprainores and Eduardo Murcia, Treasurer of Aprainores’ Board of Directors joined small farmer coffee farmers at a Fair in San Salvador, sponsored by Fairtrade International and the Latin American Coordinating Body of Fair Trade Producers.  Brenda and Eduardo brought samples of their organic cashews, dried mangos, pineapples, papaya and bananas for the public to enjoy.

Brenda Ceren, Aprainores Administrator & Eduardo Murcia, Aprainores Board Treasurer at the World Fair Trade Day Fair in El Salvador

 

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Call for Solidarity with the small farmers’ organization, NORANDINO

(Piura, Peru)

Last March 23, NORANDINO was decertified abruptly by the fair trade certification body FLO-Cert.

NORANDINO is member of FUNDEPPO, Foundation of Organized Small Producers; the organization behind the SPP (Small Producers’ Symbol).

NORANDINO, formerly known as CEPICAFÉ, is an organization with a history of twenty years as a pioneering and exemplary organization of small fair trade producers in the area of Piura, Peru.

NORANDINO, with a membership of about seven thousand small farmers’ families, has increased strong and steadily its participation in fair trade markets in Europe, North America and Peru, with the wide range of products, mainly coffee, granulated brown sugar and cocoa.

NORANDINO has gained wide recognition in the fair trade markets as a solvent, transparent and dutiful organization. NORANDINO has achieved to maintain long-term relationships with many fair trade companies and different international cooperation and technical assistance agencies, with the goal to consolidate processes of business and social development of the organization and its members.

At the SPP we are concerned about the current situation of NORANDINO and about the impact for thousands of families of small producers. Considering the trajectory, prestige and scope of the work of NORANDINO, FUNDEPPO expresses its solidarity with NORANDINO.

We ask the various bodies involved in the decertification mentioned, to review the decision of decertification.
We make a strong call to all actors in the fair trade movement and market not to drop NORANDINO, manifest their solidarity with this organization in the current situation and find the necessary solutions to continue trading and maintain their cooperative relationships without interruption.

On behalf of the FUNDEPPO Board

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I’m on my way to El Salvador and Honduras to visit our cashew co-op partners. Sadly, we got word last week that “unseasonable” rains and winds have destroyed 75% of this year’s cashew crop and the co-op in Salvador (Aprainores) has had to shut down their processing plant after just two weeks; laying off the 60 or so women whose income depends on the plant. Instead of the 60,000 or so pounds of cashews that Aprainores was planning to export this year, they will export nothing.

Very sad indeed.

This is the precarious nature of a small farmer co-op, becoming increasingly more difficult every day due to climate change.

It’s also the challenge for Alternative Trade Organizations, like Equal Exchange, that work hard to build these supply chains: working closely with our farmer co-op partners in the south and then just as diligently in the north where everything depends on an informed, educated and engaged citizen-consumer  and a retailer whose values, principles, and behaviors match our own.

On both ends of the supply chain, the bigger context is also becoming increasingly more challenging as government agriculture and trade policies, climate change, and the corporatization of the food system create an unwelcoming set of conditions to be navigated.  Despite the challenges however, the rays of hope and community shine through:  our model of alternative trade, authentic fair trade, a new economy- whatever you like to call it – will persevere because it is built on relationships, community, a concern for the planet, and a system which is based on the principle that people come before profits.

To quote our friends on the banana team, at OKE USA:  please look beyond the seal!  Ask questions before you purchase.  When we behave as engaged citizens – not just as consumers – we can awaken the sleeping giant and create the world we envision.

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Photo by Kai Horstmann

Photo by Kai Horstmann

Dear Tea Drinkers,

I am absolutely convinced that if you knew the deplorable conditions in which the vast majority of tea workers lived; the endless studies documenting the human rights and labor rights violations rampant on tea gardens, tea estates, tea plantations (call them what you will), the child slavery, indentured slavery, human trafficking that goes on unpunished – I am absolutely convinced that you WOULD STOP BUYING TEA from most of the brands that you think of as the “established”, “reputable”, and “prestigious” companies stocked on your grocery stores’ shelves.

I am absolutely convinced that if you knew all this AND knew of the enormous profits and industry control of the entire tea supply chain, you would think twice about who your dollars are supporting.

Sadly, the vast majority of Fair Trade Teas on the market do not dramatically improve worker conditions, empower workers, nor most importantly, change either the overall situation or the balance of power for those doing the hardest work cultivating, picking, and processing tea.

The article below is just one more in an endless, seemingly ignored, expose of the abuses of the “conventional” tea industry.

It is hard not to feel tremendous pride, and a deep commitment to the work we at Equal Exchange, and more importantly, our small farmer tea partners in India, South Africa, and Sri Lanka are doing – against the current – to build small farmer supply chains and an informed, engaged consumer citizenry to transform the way in which we enjoy our morning or afternoon tea break.

Please help us support an alternative tea supply chain so that we can all wake up in the morning knowing that the tea we so enjoy is also supporting the dignity of those in the tea industry, and providing improved conditions, livelihoods, and communities of those far away from us geographically, but so connected to us in every other way.

Indian tea workers, a life without dignity

On the occasion of International Labor Day, the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition (GNRTFN) releases a report on the dire working and living conditions that tea plantations workers face in Assam and West Bengal, two tea producing regions in India.

Based on a GNRTFN fact finding mission (FFM), A Life without dignity – the price of your cup of tea highlights the human rights violations and abuses that India’s tea plantation workers have endured for generations, in particular of their right to adequate food and nutrition (RTFN) and related rights. The report also reflects years of work by two of its members, the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) and the Right to Food Campaign in India.

The findings show that tea workers are not receiving adequate living wages, and their working conditions are harsh and physically arduous. Without protective equipment, those who spray tea bushes are regularly exposed to pesticides. Female tea pluckers –around half of the work force – suffer from violations of their human rights. As a general rule, women plantation workers are subjected to violations of their maternity protection rights and benefits and face rampant discrimination at work; the wages they receive are less than those of men; and they have few, if any, promotional opportunities. These violations at the workplace are compounded by the pervasive human rights violations they face vis-a-vis their living conditions.

While the Plantation Labour Act (PLA) entrusts the tea plantation owners with the responsibility to provide tea workers and their families with basic needs, including drinking water, health care, education and housing, this could not be further from reality. Workers’ houses are old without any water supply or sanitation facilities and their children do not receive proper education. Workers’ families, who want their children not to live under the same conditions of life as current and previous generations, toil to provide a good education. Often, parents face huge barriers at every stage of their child’s growth. Health care and medicine are not within easy reach–physically or financially– nor are other basic necessities, such as water, sanitation, or electricity.

The lack of security of tenure appears to be at the core of their continued dependency on tea plantations. With workers having no legal right over their house and land, any management staff has the power to evict any worker currently out of work. This has meant that workers, particularly women, continue to work for pittance wages in order to keep a toehold on the only house that they possess, having lost their ties to their actual homeland over the last 200 years. The workers therefore continue to work in a state of bondage, frightened to organize and fight for better working conditions, as protests can mean eviction from their homes.
By enacting the PLA, the Government of India formalized the system that had kept workers completely dependent on tea plantation owners. This dependency becomes most obvious and detrimental when plantations close down – as is the case in West Bengal. Without any savings or a place to go, tea workers are forced to take drastic measures to ensure their survival and with some dying of hunger in extreme cases.

Amongst its key recommendations, the GNRTFN  calls on the State of India to take immediate actions to guarantee all human rights of tea workers, especially, the RTFN, housing, water, sanitation and education, in line with international and national law, ensuring close consultation with the concerned workers. Any decisions in relation to the future of tea gardens, including any structural alternatives, should be taken with the involvement of tea workers throughout the entire process. Understanding the impact of abandoned (closed) plantations on the lives of workers and their families, the Network also urges the State of India to pay urgent attention and adopt the necessary measures.

You can find the report here.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

  • The FFM took place in tea plantations in Assam and West Bengal from 27th November 2015 to 4th December 2015. Pre-findings were presented in two press conferences in Kolkota and New Delhi.
  • The Network is an initiative of CSOs and social movements (peasants, fisherfolk, pastoralists, landless people, consumers, urban people living in poverty, agricultural and food workers, women, youth, and indigenous peoples) that recognize the need to act jointly for the realization of the RTFN.

Read more about Equal Exchange’s efforts to build an alternative tea supply chain here and here.

For more information about the FFM, please contact tang[at]fian.org  and cordova[at]fian.org
For media enquiries about the report, please contact delrey[at]fian.org
Read more about the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition

 

In honor of World Fair Trade Day, our friends at the Fair World Project have created this excellent 4-minute video that tells the story of authentic fair trade:  what it’s about; why it’s important to support organized small farmer co-operatives; and how we, consumers-citizens, can begin to take back our food system.

The motto, “Food For People Not Profits,” has never been more critical than it is today.  Behind the scenes, unbeknownst to most of us, corporations are controlling more and more of the way in which our food is grown, distributed, and sold to us.  We believe it is time to come together and fight back.  We can do this partly by supporting people-centric alternative supply chains from small farmers, to worker-owned democratically-run businesses, to natural food stores and co-operatives that actually care about people and the planet.

 

After watching the video, click here to learn more about Fair World Project and World Fair Trade Day, and if that’s not enough, how you can win a year supply of fair trade products!

 

 

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