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Archive for December, 2009

End of Year Letter from Peru

Today we received the following letter (translated from Spanish) from Miguel Paz, Export Manager of CECOVASA, one of our small farmer coffee co-operative partners in Juliaca, Peru:

 

 

 Hola compañeros:

 

The year has ended but not the work. But since it’s New Years, we don’t talk of difficult things; rather we wish for success, happiness and good health… 

 
I’m sending you some photos of my recent trip to the production zone where I was attending the end of year General Assemblies.


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the photos are from the visit we paid to Wilson Sucaticona, National Quality Champion.  His coffee is 1600 meters high and even at this time, there’s still coffee to harvest. We did a ceremony, called Kintucha, to give thanks to the earth.

 
 

The other photos are of the Assembly of Delegates where they have elected the new Governing Board.  As always, the Assemblies end with beer and a dance.  In the photos, the floor appears wet; this is due to the custom that each person spills a little less than half of the first glass on the floor… for “good luck”.  


 

Finally, are photos of the new processing plant in Juliaca, which we plan to inaugurate on January 21, 2010 during the Day of the “Change in Command”.  This is when the new Governing Board assumes leadership.  

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take care and stay in touch.  

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Sarath Ranaweera, Director of Biofoods, a Fair Trade, Organic Tea and Spice organization working with small farmers in Sri Lanka sent holiday greetings to Equal Exchange this morning. He included a bit of exciting news which I’d like to share with you.

Three years ago, I visited Sri Lanka with another colleague at Equal Exchange to learn more about the work of our tea partners, Biofoods. They are the only organization in Sri Lanka that works with small farmers. (There is other Fair Trade tea being produced in Sri Lanka but none of it comes from small holders.) Biofoods’ mission is to provide market access to small farmers so that they can stay on the land, provide strong livelihoods for their families, and maintain healthy and vibrant communities.

We were deeply impressed with their commitment to small farmer organizations as a development model and to organic (and biodynamic) production as a way to protect the earth’s fragile and diminishing resources. To fulfill its social, economic and environmental mission through the export of high quality, organic, Fair Trade tea and spices, Biofoods has developed state of the art technology in processing and packaging. The staff applies this expertise, along with technical assistance and market access to SOFA (the Association of Organic Small Farmers) which includes 750 farmers growing a variety of foods for local consumption, as well as tea and spices for export.

In his note to us, Sarath included the following update of their progress:

“We are happy to inform you that our sister company, Eco Foods successfully opened the organic shop for locals in Kandy City Centre, the largest mall in Sri Lanka. This was one of the key issues in our concept: that we provide locals with healthy food while exporting the excess. Finally, we were lucky to be inside one of prime places and we have section for fair trade in which non-food produce from small producers is also sold.

This will be a kind of Historical mile stone in our long journey in the organic World during the last 16 years. There was a very distinguished gathering including top Civil servants, senior university academics, Artists, lawyers, representatives from Environmentally-friendly movements, organic farmer organizations and well wishers. Others must now follow our sustainable model of this small organic farmer project in which practical application of organic and fair trade on the ground will improve the socio economic standards of marginalized farmers which we are showing to be possible. Photos are attached. 

Thank you for all your encouragements and appreciations.”

 

We congratulate them in this latest milestone and wish them even greater success!

To learn more about Biofoods, SOFA and our line of Sri Lankan teas, click here.

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Opinions were fast and furious last week reacting to Nestle’s decision to source their Kit Kat bars (sold in the UK and Ireland) from Fair Trade certified producers. Below, Nick Reid (Sales Department) adds his voice to the discussion.

On December 7th, Nestle SA, the world’s largest food company, announced it will convert their entire line of “four-fingered” Kit Kat bars in the UK and Ireland to Fair Trade-certified chocolate. The news was released with the support of the Fairtrade Foundation, the UK certifier of Fair Trade, and the Arch-Bishop of York. British Kits Kats (not to be confused with their American counterparts, which are licensed to Hershey’s) are the second best-selling chocolate bar in the UK, and will increase its Fair Trade chocolate sales by £43 million. The announcement has been viewed with skepticism due to Nestle’s corporate notoriety; including several lawsuits filed against the company as recently as 2007 accusing Nestle of allowing human rights abuses and child slavery/trafficking on cocoa plantations in West Africa.

My gut reaction to Nestle’s announcement on Monday was largely indignation and skepticism- Nestle being one of the least socially-responsible corporations in the world. Given that the International Labor Rights Forum voted Nestle in the Top 5 “5 Worst Companies for the Right to Associate” on their “Working for Scrooge 2008” list; the corporation’s commitment to empowering small farmers and building a just, alternative economic model seems laughable. I’m not alone; the news has caused quite a controversy, with many Fair Trade organizations and social activists lambasting the initiative and lining up in opposition… But, I find the foaming, rabid ideologue in me giving way to a more practical, worldly view; I have to say I’m not as critical as some.

I can’t say I share the optimism of the Fairtrade Foundation (the UK certifying agency, similar to Transfair in the US) who calls it “a huge step towards tipping the balance of trade in favour of disadvantaged cocoa producers.” (Fairtrade Foundation PR). The deal will affect a tiny percentage of the world’s cacao production; and just one of Nestle’s hundreds of products- “a tiny step…” might be more appropriate… But neither am I as pessimistic as Joe Turner, who wrote “A Black Day For Fair Trade“, on his civil society finance blog. Although I agree with almost everything he writes (and I recommend his article), I cannot disregard the positive impact the “conversion” will have for the 6,000 farmers of the Kavokiva Cooperative in Cote D’Ivoire, and I can’t imagine the Fairtrade seal on Kit Kat’s “devalues all those smaller (Fair Trade) brands…”

Henry Wallop summed it best in his article in the Telegraph when he wrote, “The announcement has been welcomed… helping the company to secure a public relations coup, after being dogged by bad publicity dating back to the late 1970s…” Nestle’s interest in Fair Trade is, clearly, a profit-driven marketing ploy. And I have no doubt they’re currently busting a union somewhere, squeezing whatever poor company provides Kit Kat’s “cream-filled wafers”, and cooking up some toxic ink to cut costs on Kit Kat packaging… Despite their motivation, Nestle embracing Fair Trade has the potential to impact millions of farmers and consumers for the better.

I will leave an analysis of all the ways this is ruining Fair Trade to Joe Turner, and I do encourage everyone to read his article. I would like to offer my own list;

6 Reasons (Even Though I’m Underwhelmed) This Isn’t All Bad.

 

  1. It’s not plantations. Unlike the majority of certified products, Fair Trade certification of cacao (and coffee) is only available to small-farmer cooperatives like Kavokiva or CONACADO (our primary supplier, a Dominican cooperative), not plantations or agri-business. Access to markets for small farmers has been at the core of the Fair Trade movement since the beginning; when farmers around the globe were forced to compete with colonial or neo-colonial plantations and commercial “firms” to export their products. Fair Trade provided much-needed business and stable prices to farmers when others (like Nestle) would not. That hasn’t changed.
  2. Who buys Kit Kats, anyway? Not to make light of this situation, but I think I’ve had, maybe, one Kit Kat in the past five years. I seriously doubt there are many Brits who have been settling for a Divine chocolate bar because of their commitment to Fair Trade, just waiting, impatiently for Kit Kits to finally get that certification. I think it more likely there are hundreds of thousands of people who regularly eat Kit Kats, that have either heard little or nothing about Fair Trade, but will continue to eat them regardless (the price of the bars will not change, according to Nestle, which does make me question the specifics of the deal). Who’s to say they won’t see the seal and be inspired to learn more. I seriously doubt the move will alienate many consumers- the committed ones will find “better” alternatives.
  3. A little confusion is not a bad thing/Fair Trade is not a panacea. One of the greatest challenges to fair traders has been the need to educate consumers. It has certainly been one of our primary concerns at Equal Exchange; this blog itself the product of our (one-person) “Education and Campaigns” department. If nothing else, inviting a notorious, morally-bankrupt, multinational corporation into the fold is sure to raise a few eyebrows. The fact is, Fair Trade is not the answer to all of the world’s problems, and all Fair Trade is not equal. If nothing else, this is further evidence for the need (and hopefully powerful motivation) for consumers to ask questions and make informed decisions about the products we all consume. The same can be said for the organic industry, where corporate agri-business is now deeply-entrenched; and the “Local” movement, which lacks a national standard or certification…
  4. Any certification is better than none. That’s a bold statement (I don’t always believe it myself), but, moving forward there is a standard to which we can hold Nestle, and a commitment to some degree of transparency. We may have some concerns about the certification and auditing processes, but compared to no standards and no auditing in the past, I have to assume this is a step in the right direction for a corporation like Nestle. It provides a baseline for the way Nestle works with some of its farmers.
  5. You can never go back. As Joe Turner points out, the commodity price for cacao is so high at the moment, that Nestle really won’t be paying much more… but one of the primary goals of Fair Trade is to provide stability to farmers (minimum price) separate from the commodity market. Of course, the cost of raw cacao could plummet and Nestle could decide it really isn’t worth certifying their four-fingered, British Kit Kats anymore, but it is significantly more difficult to greenwash that transition. I may believe getting certified is a marketing ploy, but it does require Nestle to use the language of social and economic justice… it’s hard to abandon that language with any dignity.
  6. Consumers can encourage forward momentum. It’s much easier for consumers to push Nestle to certify the rest of its lines- if Nestle really does believe in “Creating Shared Value” and “helping cacao farmers, their families and their communities”… why are just the Kit Kats in the UK Fair Trade-certified? Why not in the US? (American Kit Kats are actually a Hershey product) Why not all Nestle products? And it’s useful in encouraging other chocolate companies to make the same move, or better yet, out-do Nestle and raise the ante a little bit.

 

In the end, my greatest concern for the Fair Trade movement is that Nestle’s involvement (and lack of real commitment to change) will only further emphasize the perceived importance of “price” and “seals”, to the detriment of people and relationships. Fair Trade is about empowering people and communities, not “helping farmers” in a philanthropic or patriarchal sense. It’s about putting a face on the products we consume, connecting consumers to producers… and in doing so, building an alternative economic system that values people, solidarity and justice.

Nestle does not represent progressive change; the company will continue to do as little as possible just to become certified. While it may benefit from the work the movement has accomplished, what does Nestle understand about farmers, solidarity or justice? Regardless of what Nestle does or doesn’t do, this action won’t change what Equal Exchange has set out to accomplish, or the importance of our message. I have faith that true Fair Trade organizations will continue pushing the movement forward; telling the story, putting farmers first, and setting the bar even higher.

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We recently returned from a trip to Darjeeling where we were visiting our partners, Tea Promotors of India.  TPI is a progressive Indian company with a deep committment to transform the tea industry (still heavily seeped in its colonial legacy) into an empowerment model for small farmers. 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a lot about our trip and this vision.  How viable is a small farmer tea model in India and elsewhere?  How likely is it that U.S. consumers will care about supporting a vision of small farmer tea?  If we believe that there is a difference between working long days on someone else’s plantation and working co-operatively with other small farmers to own, manage, and run your own tea business, what can we do to support this vision?

The following photos were taken at the Singell Tea Garden in Darjeeling, India.  Most of the photos are of tea pluckers.  Some of them are of visitors; excited to see, listen, learn, and work alongside our partners.  We hope this is just the beginning of a new phase where consumers in the U.S. think more deeply about where their tea comes from, who is growing it, and under what conditions.

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News Release

 

 

Local, Mission-Driven Food Businesses Collaborate To Beat the Recession

Boston December 6, 2009―Dancing Deer, the women-led natural baking company and Equal Exchange, the worker-owned Fair Trade pioneer have joined forces to solve your gifting and holiday party needs–all while supporting the local economy and some great causes.  The “Taste of New England Gift Baskets features the award-winning Molasses Clove Cookies and other tasty treats from Dancing Deer complemented by some of Equal Exchange’s most popular organic coffee, tea and chocolates. The gift baskets also include two other local, independent enterprises; locally produced honey from Reseska Apiaries of Holliston and trail mix from Fastachi of Watertown.

The CEO’s of Dancing Deer and Equal Exchange, Trish Karter and Rob Everts, have been professional friends for years and often noodled the challenge of how to work together and help each other build their businesses which have so many parallel values.  Both companies have won many awards for their socially responsible business practices and have been lauded for having two of the most democratically organized workplaces. Both are members of Boston’s Sustainable Business Network, and Trish and Rob have shared in a CEO roundtable with other local mission-driven entrepreneurs. So when Dancing Deer decided to bring out a gift basket line, the opportunity to collaborate was obvious.

It’s been a tough year in the food business and particularly in the world of gifts as consumers and corporations have ratcheted back on spending. However Dancing Deer and Equal Exchange appeal on not only one level, but three: Great Product; Local Business; Double Bottom Line Operators who are committed not only to financial return to the shareholders, but to environmental sustainability and social justice as well.  This might be considered good marketing and strategy, which it is, but this double bottom line approach is driven by the convictions of the founders and employees of these organizations.   Equal Exchange supports small-scale organic farmers around the world through its Fair Trade program.  Dancing Deer dedicates one of its product lines (the Sweet Home Project) to funding scholarships for homeless mothers by donating 35% of the retail price on those gifts in addition to its broader double bottom line mission.

Rob Everts said about the collaboration: “Given all the values our companies share in common plus Dancing Deer’s hard-won reputation for both delicious food and serving the community, we’re really pleased to finally work together and have our products alongside theirs.”


Trish Karter returned the compliment by adding: “Equal Exchange has done some really important work in the Fair Trade movement, their products are terrific and I love their broader mission and values”.  (more…)

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“If we genuinely want to tackle the climate change crisis, the only way we have to go forward is to stop industrial agriculture.”
Henry Saragih, General Coordinator, Via Campesina

Global talks adressing climate change began this week in Copenhagen. Among the politicians, activists, scientists and others attending the talk are representatives of Via Campesina, the largest international movement of small farmers. The above quote is excerpted from a speech presented in Copenhagen by Henry Saragih, Via Campesina’s general coordinator. He concludes his speech by saying, “In short, by taking agriculture away from the big agribusiness corporations and putting it back into the hands of small farmers, we can reduce half of the global emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Ironically enough, just as these talks are going on and the links between big agriculture and global warming are becoming increasingly more evident, the U.S. Senate is about to hold confirmation hearings on Islam Siddiqui as the U.S. Trade Office’s Chief Agriculture Negotiator. Siddiqui is the current vice president for Science and Regulatory Affairs with Crop Life America, a pesticide and biotechnology trade group known for aggressively pursuing and protecting the interests of agribusiness corporations like Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and Dow. This position will enable Siddiqui to keep pushing chemical pesticides, inappropriate biotechnologies, and unfair trade arrangements on countries that do not want and can least afford them. The appointment also shows how much influence corporate agriculture and biotech firms have on our national policies.

Saragih’s full speech is reprinted below.

To take action in blocking Siddiqui’s nomination, click here.


Why we left our farms to come to Copenhagen

Speech of Henry Saragih, general coordinator of Via Campesina – Opening of Klimaforum – Copenhagen Dec 7

*         Tonight is a very special night for us to get together here for the opening of the assembly of the social movements and civil society at the Klimaforum. We, the international peasant movement La Via Campesina, are coming to Copenhagen from all five corners of the world, leaving our farmland, our animals, our forest, and also our families in the hamlets and villages to join you all.

*         Why is it so important for us to come this far? (more…)

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We just received a letter today from the Field Office of International Rights Advocates (IRA) with new evidence linking even more strongly Dole Food Company to the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries. The following is an excerpt from this letter urging those involved in the campaign to bring justice to the victims of Dole and Chiquita to step up their efforts. In addition to shedding light on Dole’s complicity with the paramilitaries, IRA is asking that the campaign advocates do more to publicize Dole’s egregious labor rights record in Colombia where an alarming number of union activists were brutally assassinated:

 

… José Gregorio Mangones Lugo, alias “Carlos Tijeras,” who commanded the William Rivas Front of the AUC’s Northern Block, has provided a sworn statement which sheds new light on the nature of Dole’s relationship to the AUC paramilitaries. The William Rivas Front operated in the banana zone and surrounding areas in the Colombian province of Magdalena, until it demobilized in 2006. Mangones is currently in jail in Barranquilla, Colombia. Both Dole and Chiquita have for many years exported bananas from this area. To read an English translation of the affidavit, click here.

 
 

In the affidavit, Mangones, who has already confessed to hundreds of murders as part of the “Justice and Peace” process in Colombia, asserts not only that both Dole and Chiquita regularly paid money to the AUC, but that they did so in return for certain “services,” including the murder of unionized banana workers and others who it was suspected could potentially interfere with the two companies’ profitable operations. Though Chiquita confessed to criminal charges that it violated U.S. anti-terrorism laws, the company has claimed that it was a victim of extortion. Dole, for its part, has denied ever making payments to the AUC.

The new revelations by Mangones will make it more difficult for Dole to deny the truth, and for Chiquita to continue portraying itself as a victim. International Rights Advocates and the Conrad & Scherer law firm have filed civil lawsuits against both Dole and Chiquita, representing the heirs of approximately 2,000 victims of the AUC in Magdalena and adjacent provinces. The lawsuits can be viewed at  (Dole) and (Chiquita).

 
 

Given that the Magdalena banana zone was the William Rivas Front’s primary area of operation, one of the Front’s “main functions … was to provide security for the banana plantations,” according to Mangones. “The income that the William Rivas Front received from Chiquita and Dole was essential to our operation. In a normal month, 80% to 90% of the income for the William Rivas Front came from the banana companies.”  “The AUC even had an open public relationship with the heads of the plantations, whether it be Dole or Chiquita. The AUC moved like fish in water in the banana plantations, because we liberated the banana zone in northern Magdalena [from the FARC guerrillas] and had military control of the territory.” As part of its provision of security to the banana companies, the AUC “guarded the plantations and trucks that carried fruit to the port so that they were not attacked by the guerillas, looted, or robbed by common delinquents, protected their managers, assets, and employees and we made sure that the workers and unions collaborated with the company and would not demand unjust or exaggerated labor claims or be manipulated to carry out banana strikes.”

Not all employees were protected, though: “My men were contacted on a regular basis by Chiquita or Dole administrators to respond to a criminal act or address some other problems. We would also get calls from the Chiquita and Dole plantations identifying specific people as ‘security problems’ or just ‘problems.’ Everyone knew that this meant we were to execute the identified person. In most cases those executed were union leaders or members or individuals seeking to hold or reclaim land that Dole or Chiquita wanted for banana cultivation, and the Dole or Chiquita administrators would report to the AUC that these individuals were suspected guerillas or criminals.”

 
 

Mangones has provided especially chilling details of Dole’s responsibility for murders in Magdalena: he lists the names of 16 of his victims whom, he states, the AUC murdered because Dole “managers, administrators, supervisors or plantation heads” fingered them as guerrilla “collaborators” or “militiamen.” These 16 are just “a few of the most representative” among “countless examples.” Among the victims were Dole employees, some of them members of SINTRAINAGRO, the banana and agricultural workers’ union. Some other victims listed were members of a peasant association that had invaded land that Dole wanted for banana production. After listing the names of the victims and the places/dates of their extra-judicial executions, Mangones adds, “As I stated earlier, most of the work of the William Rivas Front in the Zona Bananera was on behalf of Chiquita or Dole. Likewise, a large number of the executions we performed can be linked directly to either Dole or Chiquita or both companies.”

 
 

Another crucial “service” involved “pacifying” the Magdalena section of the SINTRAINAGRO trade union. In the Urabá region of Antioquia province, Colombia’s larger banana zone, by the mid 1990s SINTRAINAGRO’s came to be firmly controlled by former EPL guerrillas who demobilized in 1991, and then entered into a strategic alliance with banana growers and the paramilitaries against the Left. But the leadership of the Magdalena section of SINTRAINAGRO remained more politically diverse until the AUC violently imposed its control in 2001.

According to Mangones, “We also helped Chiquita and Dole by pacifying the labor union that represented banana workers in the [Magdalena] region. When I became Commander of the William Rivas Front, the union that represented banana workers was SINTRAINAGRO. This was an aggressive, leftist union. I believe they were sympathetic to the FARC. I directed the execution of SINTRAINAGRO’s leftist President, Jose Guette Montero. On January 24, 2001, in Cienaga, near the Olympic supermarket, between 17th Street and 18th Street, we shot Jose Guette Montero and killed him. I then installed Robinson Olivero as President of the union, and to this day, the leaders of SINTRAINAGRO are people the AUC has approved. Once we put our people in charge of SINTRAINAGRO, the union paid me 10% of the union dues it collected on a monthly basis. This union represented workers for both the Dole and Chiquita plantations.”

For more information about these lawsuits, contact International Rights Advocates.

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