Archive for February, 2011

by Lucas Fowler, Equal Exchange Sales Representative in Madison, Wisconsin

Kevin Meverden and Tammy Thomsen

Amy Goodman, Host of Democracy Now! and Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent who just returned from Tahrir square, walked past the table today. Amy (we’re on a first name basis now) saw the “EE supports workers’ rights sign” and said, “hey that’s the coffee we drink in our office.”  I didn’t even take a picture.  My truck had just gotten towed, and she asked me where the Koch brothers lobby office, and I didn’t know where it was, so I was all frazzled.  Derek, my second in command here in Madison, was on the phone, hunting my truck down, so he can’t even confirm this story.  I guess you will just have to ask Amy Goodman.

Somehow our table became an outdoor drop-off point for donated foods that go particularly well with coffee.  13 dozen donuts arrived on our table from The People’s Bakery in Madison.  Apparently a woman from San Francisco had called in to have them donated.  Not five minutes later did off-duty Police marchers come by the table.  I couldn’t resist taking the box out to them, and offering the donuts up as they marched.  As many of them laughed at the stereotype and said no thanks, there were an equal number that indulged and finished the box off straightaway.  Bagels and cream cheese also found a home on our table from another local business.  If I haven’t said it yet, the generosity of people during these trying times is unmatched.

Ron Ruzicka, Lloyd Rowley and Cheryl Labash

The coffee continues to fuel the demonstrators as the buzz, caffeine induced or otherwise, builds toward the weekend.  A bigger turnout is expected that the weekend before.  An endgame of some sort seems imminent.  Let’s hope the pieces fall in favor of the workers.

Thanks for the amazing continued support.

Earl Engerson

In cooperation,


Read Full Post »

Hi everyone,

Thanks for the continuing support from co-workers, Equal Exchange fans, workers’ rights fans, family and friends.  The coffee continues to flow, and the appreciation knows no end.  Our signs have become stained with coffee as the people balance their well-crafted signs in one hand, and their fresh hot cup in the other, all the while trying to figure out a way to help the next person prevent the same predicament by helping them fill their cup.  Everyone marching outside is cold, everyone appreciates the gesture.

Some of you may notice the cup filled with singles in one of the pictures.  At first I refused, we’re a private business, standing in solidarity with the workers, especially those brave enough to march outside for hours on end. But generosity during these times will not be turned off.  Eventually, a coffee cup started filling itself with money.  Did I mention how generous people are, even when face with impending economic uncertainty?  It got me thinking though, I could get my table mate, Derek, something to eat.  I could pay for his parking.  I could provide cream, more cups, more coffee, I could pay for a volunteers parking (want to help hand out awesome coffee to the people?), I could sustain the table as long as people were out in the streets and needed it.  People were essentially ensuring that the next person that came along could have a cup of coffee, could warm up, could go a little bit longer.  A third-shift union-cab worker, who rarely sees mid-day light had a cup and stayed out a little longer. She was happy for a chance to exercise.

Speaking of driving at all hours of the day and night, three buses rolled in to the Capitol today from Los Angeles, California.  That caused some serious excitement around the square.  Being so close to the source of the news can sometimes be the most challenging place to get the right story, or the right schedule. But when 3 bus loads of Union Workers from Los Angeles come to Wisconsin in the dead of winter to march in front of your Capitol on behalf of your state employees and teachers, you know something important is happening. The same state employees and teachers who can’t be at the Capitol, because they continue to work to keep our state running, in spite of potentially losing their most basic right as workers; collective bargaining.

The most touching part of it all is hearing every person’s story, especially the people who are listed on The Sign multiple times.  The guy living on his severance and marching on behalf of his wife who was teaching today.  The nurses who just got off of their 12 hour shift. the sheet metal workers from Milwaukee, the students who were going home to shower, but would be back as soon as they could.  Real people, taking a moment to pause, to talk about legitimate things, over coffee.

It’s a beautiful thing.  We’ll be out there as long as we can.

In cooperation, Luke

Read Full Post »

Darjeeling Limited

by Rodney North, The Answer Man, Equal Exchange

In the past we’ve tried to explain why we’ve invested so much to create a Fair Trade supply chain with co-operatives of small-scale tea growers. We’ve been trying to make the case that Fair Trade tea sourced from large plantations (which is normally the case for the Fair Trade tea you find in grocery stores) does not represent a substantive model for economic change or social justice, and that it falls short of the goals that have long inspired the Fair Trade movement.

But thankfully you don’t have to just take our word for it. Recently Grist.org Senior Food & Ag Editor and blogger extraordinaire, Tom Philpott, took a look at the Fair Trade tea scene and came to a similar conclusion.  With help from Dan Kane and a like-minded post from the WorldWatch Institute Tom used his January 18 post to offer an overview of the reality in Darjeeling, India, source of much of the world’s best tea and of much of its Fair Trade certified tea. After considering the facts he, too, found that small farmer co-ops are integral if you’re to make Fair Trade tea meaningful.

Unhappily, simply buying tea labeled Fair Trade doesn’t much affect conditions on the ground in Darjeeling, either. According to Kane, “Even those plantations labeled as Fair Trade by the Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO) and receive a premium price for their product rarely pass on these profits to laborers.”

To me, this is devastating. Even Western consumers who try to do the right thing by buying Fair Trade are financing ecological damage and poverty cycles in Darjeeling.

But even as Kane shows that the conventional trade model as well as its Fair Trade variant is failing on many important fronts in Darjeeling, he also points to an alternative: a cooperative project started by families who took over a tea plantation abandoned when the British left India in 1947. For decades, Kane writes, they shunned the global tea market and supported themselves through subsistence agriculture. Then 10 years ago, with the help of NGOs, they formed a dairy cooperative called Sanjukta Vikas Cooperative (SVC) to sell milk locally. Later, they revived the old tea bushes and began to produce organic tea, marketed in the United States by Massachusetts-based Equal Exchange under a Fair Trade label.

Unlike other Fair Trade situations, this one distributes the rewards of the higher retail price widely, Kane reports. Profits have already been invested in schools and women’s health clinics. Most crucially of all, the cooperative is hinged on polyculture and economic diversity, not monoculture and specialization.

Tom also goes on to give more insights into how this particular Equal Exchange partner is using their new and improved market access to strengthen their community economically and ecologically.

These farmers have turned their involvement in the global tea trade into hard assets: schools, clinics, and food-production infrastructure. If the price of tea plunges — all commodity markets are subject to volatility based on the whims of distant traders as well as random weather events — they’ll still be able to produce food for themselves and their neighbors to eat. (Plantation owners who devote all their land to monocropped tea, by contrast, would be ruined by a prolonged slump in tea prices — and their workers would be devastated.) And in addition to building economic resiliency, the SVC farmers are also building ecological resiliency, by not resorting to monocrops and agrichemicals.

At the end Tom puts the example of our work with this one co-op into the really big geo-political picture and, thankfully, concludes:

Until policy changes, it’s likely that projects like Sanjukta Vikas will remain the tiny exception to a monstrous rule. But that just means that conscientious U.S. consumers with the means to do so should ramp up their efforts to identify such projects and pay up for their products.

A meeting of Equal Exchange representatives and members of the Sanjukta Vikas Co-operative, Darjeeling, India, November 2010

Read Full Post »

News from Wisconsin

By Lucas Fowler, Equal Exchange Sales Account Representative (based in Madison, Wisconsin)

Hi all,

I am excited and exhausted all at the same time, but I wanted to give you an update on day 2 of the EE presence at the capitol.  First, for those who couldn’t read the fine print on the sign I made up, here’s what it said,

Free Coffee for…

Cold people, tired people, laborers, teachers, state employees, prison guards, police, firefighters, nurses, paramedics, emt, doctors, midwives, hospital workers, organizers, protesters, delivery drivers, union members, small business owners, students, former students, disaffected youth, youth-in-general, small farmers, janitors, third-shift workers, women, men, mothers, fathers, expectant fathers, grandparents, retirees, minorities, veterans, the unemployed, the underemployed, immigrants, LBGT folk, cheese heads, meat-eaters, vegans, vegetarians, clergy, anyone who celebrates their faith, anyone who has lost their faith, anyone who has no faith, packers fans, brewers fans, badgers fans, bucks fans, heck, even steelers and bears fans, townies, out of towners, homeless, line-cooks, wait-staff, chefs, private sector employees, especially those already screwed over by their own companies budget cuts, musicians, visual artists, writers, poets, professors, graduate employees, my aunt; who thinks I am un-American,  the disabled, the otherly abled, the people who keep bringing Pizza to the capitol, other people who are donating food, the down trodden, the down and out, those on the up and up, those with signs, those with their fists of solidarity held high in the air, the volunteers who are keeping the capitol clean, the volunteers who are watching the vibes and keeping the protest peaceful, members of the press, independent documentarians, cyclists, athletes, wobblies, tea drinkers, left-leaners, right leaners, socialists, libertarians, social-libertarians, conspiracy theorists, worker-owners, brothers, sisters, Pete Seeger fans, Bruce Springsteen fans, tourists, highway workers, welders, painters, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, bus drivers, train conductors, anyone who  has to get up before 6 am, anyone who gets home from work after 6:30 pm, environmentalists, conservationists, truck-drivers, freeloaders, hippies, hipsters, squares, residents of others states, really anyone.

Scott Walker may not have any of our coffee

Some additions I heard from people today, taxi-drivers, public-attorneys, human service workers, social-workers, badger-care and medicare recipients…Feel free to add to the list. The sign was birthed in about 20 minutes last night on a word document, and created at Fed-Ex Kinko’s at 7 this morning.

Also, we were better organized today. Lynsey Miller whipped up a beautiful brewing circuit with Michelangelo’s and Fair Trade Coffeehouse. We maxed out their brewers all day filling Cambros. Willy Street Grocery Co-op helped us brew our first batch of the day at the westside, and let us borrow two more Cambros so we could use both coffee shops to have a constant flow of coffee. Derek, the Equal Exchange Willy Street backup person, came and helped me at the table from 11-6, I couldn’t have done it without him. Everything clicked today.

The response to our presence was amazing. The sign was photographed hundreds of times, some people laughed, one woman cried, as she said that she had almost lost her faith. I see our role as two-fold. A) showing solidarity B) Keeping people warm with coffee so they will stay at the Capitol longer.

So many people are helping each other out, it’s amazing. The benevolence and cooperation of people during times of struggle is something to savor and remember for a later date, when things don’t seem so promising.

In regards to Scott Walker being refused coffee; Last night he was turned away by the owner of a Capitol square restaurant. They would not serve him. This report was confirmed by more than a couple of people who knew the owner directly.

Also, some folks have asked me how they can help. Willy Street Grocery Co-op is taking donations and shipping groceries to the folks who are staying in the Capitol. Last night Madison Firefighters spent the night in the Capitol in full procession gear to give the students a night off. They marched in unison and marched out in the morning in unison. I wish I could have seen it. Second, fly out here for the weekend and table with me 🙂

Lastly, don’t hesitate to call or email for updates.

In cooperation,


Luke Fowler-Wisconsin and Chicago Fair-Trade Connection Equal Exchange

4502 Gordon Ave.

Monona, WI 53716

Phone: 608.609.0054

Email: lfowler@equalexchange.coop

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/equalexchange

Twitter: @MadisonEqEx

Thank you for supporting small-scale farmers

Read Full Post »

USFWC contact: Melissa Hoover, (415) 309-5983, melissa@usworker.coop

The United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC) stands in solidarity with public workers protesting the State of Wisconsin’s Budget Repair Bill to protect their right to collective bargaining. The USFWC is a national grassroots membership organization of and for worker cooperatives, other democratic workplaces, and the organizations that support the growth and continued development of worker cooperatives.

John McNamara, president of the USFWC Board and worker-owner at Union Cab Cooperative of Madison said, “We are at Ground Zero of the labor movement right now. The battle over public sector unions and their right to collectively bargain is our struggle. What happens in Wisconsin will help change the course of debate in this country that will prevent the Shock Capitalism advocates from operating.”

US Federation Executive Director Melissa Hoover states: “Worker cooperatives are historically and currently part of the labor movement. We promote the idea of democracy–not just in the workplace, but in the labor union structure and in our civic life. We support the workers of Wisconsin and internationally. Corporate handouts by governments cannot be paid for by working people.”

Two of the most basic principles followed by worker cooperatives worldwide are ‘democratic member control’ and ‘member economic participation.’  As institutions of economic democracy, worker cooperatives support political democracy and the rights of all workers to engage in the political process.   The USFWC stands against this “smoke screen” to attack workers, sell off state assets, and destroy the ability of workers to engage in the political process, and encourages its members and allies to contact their legislators to oppose the “repair” bill.

For more on the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, click here. For more on worker cooperatives and their guiding principles, click here.


Melissa Hoover, Executive Director

US Federation of Worker Cooperatives


(415) 379-9201

PO Box 170701
San Francisco, CA  94117

Rob Everts, Co-Executive Director
Rink Dickinson, Co-Executive Director
Kelsie Evans, Worker/Owner Coordinator
and the 97 Worker/Owners of the

Equal Exchange Co-operative


(774) 776-7400
50 United Drive
West Bridgewater, MA 02379

Read Full Post »



Felix Loja (and other farmers)

plant and care for your banana on their

small-Scale farms in Ecuador and Peru


After 12 months of growth,

Bananas are harvested

At packing stations, the bananas

Undergo quality inspection, are washed

And packed into boxes



Farmers choose the mode of transport

To the centro de Acopio,

horseback or truck?




At the Centro de Acopio, boxes are loaded

into refrigerated** shipping containers

(each box is 40 lbs, 960 boxes per container)

**Bananas are very sensitive to temperature changes

and must be held at 58-59*F until they are eaten!

Bananas Ship to the USA (9-11 days)

Containers arrive at the port

and undergo Agriculture inspection


Green bananas are

Ripened, using a natural gas

called Ethylene, in ripening

rooms such as these ones

(4-5 days)


Distributors deliver Yellow

bananas to a store near you!



Take home and enjoy!
Total time from farm to kitchen: 4-5 weeks

After all that, can you believe your banana is only .99c/lb?

0.99c/lb? Learn more at beyondthepeel.com

Read Full Post »

First the Obama administration approved GMO Alfalfa, then GMO sugar beets, and now they’ve approved GMO corn to be used for ethanol. All this despite the huge outcry from the organic community, farmer associations, consumer groups and other concerned citizens. What are we waiting for? Please… if you haven’t signed your name to the letter to Obama  asking him to instruct the USDA to ban Monsanto’s GMO crops, consider doing so now!

The following news and urgent action comes from Food Democracy.

Tell President Obama –
It’s time to stand up to Monsanto and the rest of the biotech bullies!

Don’t let Monsanto and GMOs destroy your organic future and our democracy!

Tell President Obama to instruct the USDA to immediately ban Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa, GMO sugar beets and now industrial GMO ethanol corn from being planted and work to ensure that the organic industry is protected from genetic contamination and loss of profits and stand up for the basic rights for Americans to know what is in their food and how it’s produced.


Read Full Post »

Who do you know who goes to school–students OR teachers?

If they go to school, chances are they have to fundraise.  And if they have to fundraise, chances are they probably do not like it and they get stuff they don’t want to sell.  So how can their fundraising be a little less onerous, a little more tasty, and at the same time provide a whole lot more good to the farmers who grow our food?

We have a way!  Send your school friends a link to Equal Exchange fundraising.

Chances are they will thank you.  And like 500 other schools, they will make the switch to Equal Exchange Fundraising.

Help friends eat more high-quality, delicious chocolate, drink organic, rich-tasting coffee and stand with small farmers!  They’ll enjoy fundraising for the first time!

Read Full Post »


Fair Trade Certifiers and Stakeholder Groups Sign Agreement to Work Toward Collaboration and Accountability in Domestic Fair Trade

Boston, MA, February 1, 2011—The Domestic Fair Trade Association announced today that organizations engaged in fair trade and social justice standard-setting and certification have signed an agreement to work cooperatively and with a shared understanding and common vision for building a movement for socially just agriculture.

Recognizing that fair trade and social justice claims and programs are proliferating in the marketplace, increasing the potential for confusion in the public sphere about the similarities and differences among claims, a number of certifiers and stakeholders have been engaged in dialogue to discuss certification and standards for domestic fair trade. This agreement, called the Boston Accord, has come out of this dialogue and is a commitment to continue to work together, transparently share program information, and work towards establishing a code of conduct for legitimate fair trade organizations.

The Accord was signed by the Institute for Marketecology (IMO), Scientific Certification Services, and Agricultural Justice Project partners El Comité de Apoyo a Los Trabajadores Agricolas (CATA), Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA), Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) CT, NH, NJ, NY, RI, and VT chapters, and Florida Organic Growers.

Showing their support for this important process, a number of stakeholders from across the food and agriculture system also signed the Accord including Berkshire Co-operative Market, Centro Campesino, Community to Community Development, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Equal Exchange, FairDeal Value Chain Non-profit, Fair World Project, Farmer Direct Co-operative, Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA), Once Again Nut Butter, Organic Valley, and Willamette Seed and Grain.

This is an open and transparent process. To become involved in the dialogue, read the full Accord, or request more information, contact DFTA:

Kerstin Lindgren




The Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA) is an association of farmers, farmworkers, food workers, retailers, marketers, processors, manufacturers, and NGOs with the mission to promote and protect the integrity of Domestic Fair Trade principles through education, marketing, advocacy and endorsement.

Contact: Kerstin Lindgren, kerstin@thedfta.org, 617-680-9862

Read Full Post »

Rabble Rousers

By Daniel Fireside, Equal Exchange Capital Coordinator

We here at Equal Exchange think we’re doing some pretty radical things in every way that we run our business. So it’s nice to hear what professionals in the world of high finance are saying about us. The following article was written by a financial advisor from the firm, Natural Investments. It was included in its latest newsletter and was also posted on this blog.

The Rabble Rousers at Equal Exchange

by Malaika Maphalala


Many of you are familiar with Equal Exchange, the Fair Trade company marketing mainly chocolate, coffee, and teas. Over the past year, I’ve enjoyed several conversations with Equal Exchange’s outgoing and ingoing Capital Managers, Alistair Williamson and Daniel Fireside, to learn more about their business. I’ve been deeply impressed by their downright revolutionary business model and philosophy. They are, in fact, economic activists who take pride in their role as visionary rebels. Equal Exchange’s deep commitment to social justice permeates every level of its business: the internal structure, relationships with trade partners, and business financing models.

Internally, Equal Exchange is a for-profit business structured as a democratically-run worker owned co-operative, where every employee has a say in the direction of the business along with a financial stake in its success or failure. After one year at Equal Exchange, employees become worker-owners by purchasing a single share of Class A Common Stock and earning the power to vote under the democratic philosophy of one vote per person (not per share). Management is “open book” so everyone has access to information and can vote knowledgably on major company issues. Worker-owners nominate and elect the company’s nine-member board of directors, and have the right to run for one of six seats reserved for employees. Further, the pay structure has a top to bottom pay ratio of no more than 4 to 1, meaning top paid employees never earn more than 4 times the lowest paid employees. In comparison, the average ratio of American CEO pay to worker pay was 263-to-1 in 2009. As a worker owned co-op, Equal Exchange is part of a much larger, historical movement, and they have grown to become one of the largest, most financially successful worker co-ops in the country. With over 36M in sales this year, the company and its widely recognized brand really bring the alternative business model of the worker-owned cooperative into the public eye. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »