Archive for October, 2011

Promise small farmers and committed Alternative Trade Organizations that you will not attempt to certify plantations into the Fair Trade system. Repeat that promise every year for eight years (even while behind the scenes you are quietly certifying and then not-so-quietly promoting plantation bananas). Unilaterally decide to change your name to signify that your organization IS synonymous with fair trade. Announce “Fair Trade for All”, a strategy which puts plantations into the Fair Trade system, and lowers the standards across the board, making it easy for anyone to become Fair Trade certified. So easy it begs the question, what does this Fair Trade actually stand for? Withdraw from the international Fair Trade system. Change your logo and position your brand to compete in the international market.

What’s all the fuss about?


Cartoon courtesy of John Klossner, copywrite 2011

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Last week a few of us from Equal Exchange traveled to El Salvador to attend the CLAC’s First International Gathering of the Small Producers’ Symbol (SPP), an historic event which marks the first Fair Trade initiative developed by small farmer organizations. As opposed to the FLO International Fair Trade system, which was designed in the North to support small farmer organizations in the South, the SPP was created and developed by farmers’ organizations in the South and will be implemented by Alternative Trade Organizations in the North.

Equal Exchange’s Todd Caspersen, at The First International Gathering of the Small Producers’s Symbol

For two days, representatives of small farmer organizations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean and their closest industry allies in Europe, Canada, and the United States, gathered together at a beautiful retreat center outside San Salvador, at the top of the San Salvador Volcano to learn, debate, and share ideas concerning the best ways to launch the new symbol.  It was exciting; and incredibly inspiring to have the opportunity to participate in this gathering and help shape the initiative so that it can have the strongest chances of success and impact in the market. We  will be sharing much more about the Small Farmer Symbol in the coming months, and soon we hope you will start to see the symbol on small farmer products in grocery stores throughout the United States (and elsewhere).

Why is the CLAC ( The Latin American and Caribbean Network of Small Fair Trade Producers) developing a small farmer symbol?

Once it became clear that the FLO system was moving away from its original mission: to provide market access to small farmers and to change the way international trade is conducted (by leveling the playing field between small farmers and plantations), small farmer organizations realized that they would need to create their own ways to survive and thrive in the international arena.

Ironically, just as the CLAC launched their own symbol to differentiate their products in the marketplace (and within the Fair Trade system itself), TransFair USA (now FairTrade USA) announced their new initiative, Fair Trade For All.  Although TransFair’s press release never explicitly states so, the organization has made it clear elsewhere that they are now fully ready and willing to allow plantations growing coffee, cocoa, and sugar to receive Fair Trade certifications.  In doing so, their goal is to continue growing the system fast, far, and wide.  When small farmer organizations (ATOs, Fair Trade organizations, and FLO International itself) protested, TransFair USA responded by withdrawing from the international Fair Trade system to go it alone.

We don’t yet know what the future will hold.  Will plantation coffee, cocoa, and sugar (along with all the other plantation products already certified by TransFair USA and FLO International) signify the end of these small farmer products and therefore the end of small farmer organizations? Will they be able to compete against all the competitive advantages that plantations have been allotted through the past centuries? While we can’t predict the future, the threat is real and it is safe to assume that life just became increasingly more difficult for small farmer organizations.  It is sad; even with a small farmer Fair Trade system, the past twenty-five years have not been easy and so many hundreds of small farmer organizations, ATOS, and other Fair Trade advocates have worked hard to build small farmer supply chains, and to educate consumers about the issues and challenges involved in trying to structurally change an inherently unfair trade system.  Will  all this hard work have been in vain?  Do Small Farmer Organizations have a future?

Well, as all social justice activists know, no one ever said changing the world was easy.  Thanks again to all of you for your support and willingness to question, learn, and ACT.  We will continue to stand by and for small farmer organizations and an alternative trade system.

Cartoon courtesy of John Klossner, copywrite 2011

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Scott Owen of PCC at Aguilayoc Co-op

In June, Equal Exchange organized our 10th Anniversary Tour to to visit the farmer members of Aguilayoc Co-op, which is a member group of COCLA.  Scott Owen of Puget Consumer Cooperative was one of the travelers and wrote this report.  We think you’ll enjoy his reflections and his photos!

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In March 2011, the banana team and Equal Exchanger’s headed to northern Peru to learn more about the two new co-operatives of small-scale banana farmers we are now working with.

This summer, Emma (our intern from the University of Minnesota), helped us create a video that takes some of the footage from our trip and transforms it into a captivating story about the path of an Equal Exchange banana.  Watch this short video to learn more about how bananas grow,  what they go through before they arrive at your house, and why, by purchasing Equal Exchange bananas, you are part of something bigger….a revolutionary people chain.


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In a country that labels everything from cosmetics to cleaning agents, it’s surprising that there are no laws in the U.S. requiring labeling of genetically engineered Foods. Yet 93% of Americans believe GE foods should be labeled.

We don’t think that’s right.

Many other countries including Japan, Australia, the European Union and even China require labeling of genetically engineered foods.

Tell the FDA you have a right to know what’s in your food.

Genetically engineered (GE) foods, also referred to as genetically modified, or GMOs, are “Plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs,” or could occur naturally.

We’ve joined an effort with hundreds of organizations representing millions of Americans called the “Just Label It: We Have a Right to Know” campaign. It supports a petition to the FDA that calls for products that use ingredients produced with genetic engineering to disclose this information on the label.

If you agree that you have a right to know if the food you are eating has been genetically engineered, send a message to the FDA. Let’s make sure the FDA hears loud and clear that Americans want GE foods labeled.

It is your right to know about your food.

Please watch the “Dining in the Dark” video, share it with your friends and encourage them to sign the petition to label genetically engineered foods.

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Yes, it’s true.  A long brewing schism within the Fair Trade movement between the certifying bodies and most everyone else (producer co-ops, alternative trade organizations, fair trade advocates, consumer activists, etc.) has finally culminated in an actual break.

TransFair USA has withdrawn from the International Fair Trade Certifying body, FLO International, in order to go it alone.  They do not agree with others in the movement that the fair trade system should continue to carry out its original mission: to support small farmer organizations by helping them gain access to the international market.  When TransFair USA announced its intention to change their name to FairTrade USA despite much protest from others in the movement, it was clear that this next step was not too far away. Producers, fair trade organizations, and activists continue to express their criticism of TransFair’s decision (and actions).  All that remains to be seen is what concrete responses will be taken to lessen the impact  the certifier’s action will now have on those for whom the system was created; small farmer organizations.

Many thanks to our friends at the Fair World Project for nicely summing up the perspectives of TransFair USA, FLO International, and the various producer networks. 

A few of us from Equal Exchange are here in El Salvador attending the First International Gathering of the Small Producers’ Symbol (SPP).  The meeting begins today and while the focus of the gathering is on this new initiative, there will be much talk about the current state of Fair Trade and how best to move forward.  Despite TransFairs’ continued actions to build its own brand by focusing on growth and expansion over quality and impact, we will continue working hard to build market access for small farmer organizations, to build an educated and informed network of consumers, to connect producers and consumers, and most importantly to change, not merely accept, the way that conventional business and international trade are done.

Thanks to everyone who shares this belief and is working alongside us to build this alternative economic system.

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On September 8th, TransFair USA (recently renamed FairTrade USA) sent out a press release announcing their new initiative, entitled Fair Trade For All.  While not explicitly stated as such, the initiative reflects a dramatic change in direction allowing the certification of plantations in the coffee and cocoa Fair Trade product categories.  Small farmer and progressive Alternative Trade organizations have struggled to prevent plantations from being part of the Fair Trade system for close to a decade.  When FLO International protested the unilateral action, FairTrade USA responded by withdrawing from the global Fair Trade system.

Below is the statement from the CLAC with a brief introduction from Rob Everts affirming Equal Exchange’s position on this matter.

“While this news will have been missed by most, those who follow the inner workings of fair trade certification have likely heard of the decision of Transfair USA to pull out of its international umbrella organization FLO and go it alone.  In our opinion, this represents a continuation of Transfair’s years-long practice of playing to its own set of rules, almost always to the benefit of large scale players in the commodities world and against the interests of Fair Trade’s original primary stakeholders:  organized groups of small scale farmers.  We would like to take this opportunity to post the position statement of the CLAC, the coordinating body of fair trade producer groups in Latin America and the Caribbean.  We endorse their position.” – Rob Everts, Co-Director, Equal Exchange 





San Salvador, El Salvador

September 22nd, 2011

The Latin American and Caribbean Network of Small Fair Trade Producers (CLAC) is a founding member and co-owner of Fairtrade International, and is strongly committed to the future of Fair Trade for disadvantaged producers.

The CLAC represents democratically organized small farmers, and addresses the strengthening and development of grassroots organizations promoting their products and values; does advocacy within the framework of fair trade, being strongly committed to self-management and empowerment of Small Farmers’ Organizations.

The CLAC is also committed to the mandate of its last Assembly in November 2010, where delegates from 70 organizations representing more than 119.761 farmers, reaffirmed their support to saying No to the Certification of Plantations and Contract Production of certified products in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Therefore, we as CLAC join the regret caused by the departure of FAIRTRADE USA and we express the fact that we cannot share its new vision of expansion, since it threatens the empowerment, development and self-management of small organized producers.

We also feel it is the right moment to propose a review of the current system requesting FLO to stop the certification of plantations (HL) in Latin America and the Caribbean, to commit itself by not certifying contract production (CP) of any product and to serve the healthy interests of small organized producers; thus CLAC will commits itself to actively continue assisting FLO in promoting and making Fair Trade grow in the world, fulfilling the mission of empowering disadvantaged producers and generating development through trade and self-management, and also representing workers of already certified plantations, so they may have better organizational opportunities and decision making on their future.

We propose to continue working together for a global fair trade that respects and promotes the original values and principles that brought us together.

On behalf of the CLAC,

Merling Preza Ramos

Board President

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After five years of discussions and planning, small producer organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean have officially launched their own seal (or symbol, as they are calling it) to help consumers distinguish which Fair Trade products come directly from small farmers.  In recent years, Fairtrade Labelling Organization (FLO International) and its national initiatives, such as TransFair USA have moved further and further away from the original concept that Fair Trade was necessary to support small producer organizations and help them gain access to the market.  Although it was deemed that plantations, which have long dominated international markets, did not need extra support to access these markets, the certifying bodies have steadily and increasingly permitted their products to be certified Fair Trade.  The small producers, and their Alternative Trade Organization (ATO) allies, such as Equal Exchange have struggled through the years to keep Fair Trade true to its original mission.

Finally, in April 2011, at the annual meeting of one of the most important coffee conferences, the Specialty Coffee of America Association Conference, in Houston, amidst much fanfare, the CLAC officially launched their new simbolo de los pequenos productores (the small farmer “symbol”/SPP).  The CLAC hopes that widespread use of their “simbolo” will enable consumers to distinguish between small farmer and plantation fair trade products.  They have begun certifying producer groups throughout Latin America, Asia, and Africa and are now turning to the importers to get their help in building this new system.

Today, several of us from Equal Exchange fly to San Salvador to attend two days of meetings hosted by the CLAC during which we will discuss how to implement the SPP in the United States and other consumer countries.

Stay tuned here for more information as we make progress supporting the first fair trade seal launched by the producers themselves!

Small Farmers.  Big Change.

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October is National Co-op Month.  To honor and celebrate this occasion, Equal Exchange is partnering with our food co-op allies to support an emerging new small farmer tea model being birthed in Darjeeling, India.  If you shop at a food co-op, we hope you’ll join us in this historic moment to support the Potong Tea Garden and its workers.  During this entire month of October, for each Equal Exchange product sold through food co-ops, we will donate 25 cents (up to $15,000) to the Potong community for the planting of 30,000 new tea bushes.  Read on to learn more…

Children at the Potong Tea Garden, Darjeeling, India

In the foothills of the Himalayas, the Potong Tea Garden, once a colonial plantation, now collectively run by its workers, is making history. If this revolutionary new model is successful, not only will it generate significant improvements for the garden’s 350 workers and their families, but the seeds planted in Darjeeling, India, could help spark a badly needed transformation of the tea industry. Equal Exchange is proud to partner with the Potong worker-owners and food co-ops across the United States, to support this exciting social, economic, and environmentally sustainable small farmer tea model. We believe partnerships such as these hold the key to the future of a fair and equitable tea system.

The Potong Tea Garden represents a unique effort to address a difficult challenge: how to build a new tea system out of a decaying and crumbling plantation model that remains largely unchanged from the days of the British Empire. Approximately 50 million workers throughout the developing world make their livelihoods from this industry.  Sadly, even consumers trying to make ethical purchases, might still unknowingly prop up this archaic plantation system.  Even 98 percent of tea that is labeled “Fair Trade” is sourced from large-scale plantations still working with bonded labor and other vestiges of colonial legacy.

Due to the feudal nature of tea plantations, workers are often trapped in a system of dependency. In many cases, workers receive their housing, schooling and medical care from the estate. If a worker loses his/her job, or if the plantation is abandoned, thousands of workers and their families are left without any form of income, housing, or services. Tea workers need committed fair traders and consumers to take action now to create a new model based on human rights and economic justice.

Established over 100 years ago by the British, Potong Tea Garden was repeatedly abandoned, taken over, mismanaged, and abandoned again.  Throughout that time, 2500 people depended on the plantation for their livelihoods, shelter, medical needs and educational services. As Sher Bahadur, Potong’s board president told us in November 2009, the plantation system was structured in such a way that workers were never taught any other means of livelihood. “We were 100 percent dependent on the tea plantation,” he said. “So when the plantation was abandoned, what could we do?”

In 2005, after a series of government and private-industry take-overs which ran the garden further into the ground, the owners of Potong approached Tea Promotors of India (TPI), one of the tea industry’s most progressive and visionary companies, asking them to consider running the estate. Committed to making small farmer ownership possible, representatives of TPI proposed a solution to keep the estate in operation.  The workers agreed to take over management and 51 percent ownership of the estate. TPI agreed purchased 25 percent of shares and provided the workers with technical assistance and market support. As one worker-owner told us, “Before, the management was the supreme authority and we were scared of them. Now we discuss things amongst ourselves. We have a new structure and we can work with dignity and for our own development and for no one else. This is our model; if we are successful, then we will have a future.

The workers are learning to own, manage, and operate their tea garden. With training and technical assistance from TPI, they are learning new skills, taking risks, and rebuilding operations. Decades of neglect, however, have also taken their toll on farm productivity. We were told that some of the tea bushes are the original bushes that were planted when Lincoln was president, in 1860. Production is half what it could be as many of the tea bushes have died, leaving acres of fallow land.

Potong’s leaders are working hard alongside TPI to bring about badly needed economic and social change. They understand that environmental restoration and farm maintenance are equally important to the equation. The need for new tea bushes, organic fertilizer, and improved irrigation systems is critical to their success. For this reason, TPI asked Equal Exchange to partner with them and invest in the planting of new tea bushes. We, in turn, are inviting our food co-op partners and their shoppersto participate with us in this exciting new experiment in worker control and small farmer empowerment.

During the month of October, for each Equal Exchange product sold through food co-ops, we will donate 25 cents (up to $15,000) to the Potong community for the planting of 30,000 new tea bushes.

When the original bushes were planted during Lincoln’s presidency, the tea garden experienced its first phase of labor and land use. This next round of tea planting, and worker ownership and control, provides an opportunity to begin anew, to reconsider and rebuild a better and more sustainable tea model. We can learn from the past, be creative and envision a new future where workers and the environment both gain. Literally and figuratively, we are planting new seeds for a far more equitable, sustainable, and dignified future.

Equal Exchange staff visit Potong in November 2009

The Potong worker-owners, TPI, Equal Exchange, and your food co-operative, invite you to join us in building this exciting new model of small farmer empowerment!

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