The following post, written by Rob Everts, Equal Exchange Co-Director, was first written for Coins and the Commonwealth in May of 2008… although his words still hold true today. Perhaps, more true, in light of all that has happened to our economy during this past year…
Two decades ago we started engaging Americans in how their food overseas was sourced and committed to building an alternative vision of international trade from the prevailing “race to the bottom.” This early attempt to give meaning to “fair trade” pre-dated even the entrance of “free trade” into the public dialog. Similarly, our capital model represented the idea of “slow money” before its time had come. In the same way we commit to long-term trade relationships with farmer co-operatives, we have sought long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with our investors.
When the current Equal Exchange capital structure was created, we knew that our model would not attract everyone, not even all who considered themselves socially responsible investors. For starters, there would never be a blockbuster return. Shares would not increase in value. Shareholders would not have a formal vote in the affairs of the business. Rather, they would share a seat at the table with other valued stakeholders to build an alternative to capitalism-as-usual. Farmers, consumers, Equal Exchange worker-owners, food co-ops, independent café and natural food stores, faith communities, investors… all of these constituencies joined together to play a critical role in enabling Equal Exchange to survive and ultimately thrive after its first decade.
And now, emboldened and yes, awed, by our 20 year vision adopted by the worker owners…
a vibrant, mutually co-operative community
of 2 million committed participants
trading fairly $1 billion dollars a year
in a way that transforms the world.
we move into the next chapter of the Equal Exchange experience. We are in uncharted territory. What we know for sure is we will continue to take risks and to more directly challenge the industrial food system over its central role in keeping millions impoverished around the world. We will also engage in political action where we believe trade or other policies negatively impact our farmer partners or perpetuate corporate control of agriculture.
One thing for sure is that we will need to collaborate with many other like-minded people and organizations to accomplish any of this. Looking forward to vigorous debate—and action—in the months and years to come.
Note: Equal Exchange is currently looking for an Investment Coordinator. If you are interested in learning more about this exciting position, please visit our website and download the full job description.