Equal Exchange was founded 22 years ago to change the way business is carried out and trade is conducted; to expand and deepen the opportunities for consumers and producers to relate to each other; and to change an anonymous, corporate-controlled food system to one in which each participant is treated with respect and dignity, and whose contribution is recognized and valued. Integral to this vision is an economic model that builds vibrant, healthy businesses and communities.
Together, we’ve accomplished a tremendous amount and have successfully paved the way for each of these goals to be realized. Through our co-operative structure, and by supporting other co-operative business models, we are building an alternative network of democratic, mission-driven businesses that place relationships above the bottom line. Fair Trade has entered the mainstream; consumers are increasingly demanding information about where their food comes from, insisting that conditions are fair for those who grow it, and increasingly see themselves as advocates for a just food system and a healthier planet.
We’ve made enormous strides. And we’re proud. We hope those of you who have walked this path alongside us share in this pride as well. But, despite tremendous efforts and accomplishments, sadly we are still swimming upstream. The world around us continues to be dominated by corporate interests and greed. Trade agreements favor the interests of multi-national corporations and treat workers and producers as objects (and their products as commodities) to be discarded when they no longer serve. Climate change is wreaking havoc on poor communities and small-scale farmers are being disproportionately affected. Taken together, these agricultural and trade policies and changing weather patterns are threatening entire communities, the quality, quantity, and price of our food, and the planet itself. We can’t really afford to rest on our laurels.
Last year, we reaffirmed our mission and desire to keep true to our roots. We adopted the message: Small Farmers. Big Change. And created a 20 year vision for our work: “There will be a vibrant, mutually co-operative community of 2 million committed participants, trading $1 billion annually in fairly traded products in a manner that transforms the world.” Gulp…
We didn’t build Equal Exchange and Fair Trade on our own. We did this together. Collectively, we have built a tremendous network of committed farmers, consumers, activists, investors, Interfaith partners, café owners, retailers, and food co-ops, who want to continue building an alternative economic model whose benefits reach far and wide and whose impact goes deeper still.
If you consider yourself part of this movement, or would like to be, we invite you to join with us to take our work one step further. Please tell us: What Big Change would you like to see our network accomplish over the next 20 years? What do you see as the biggest threats, accomplishments, and opportunities facing small-scale farmers and those who care about them? What changes to the food system, agriculture and trade policies do you personally, or institutionally, want to strive for? What role do you think Equal Exchange could play to make this 20-year vision a reality? What role could you play?