Archive for May, 2012

By Jim Feldmann, West Coast Sales Representative

Staff members at Lifesource Natural Foods in Salem, Oregon listen to Santiago Paz speak about Authentic Fair Trade

Santiago Paz was born and raised in the northern countryside of Peru.  He went on to University, studied agronomy and now manages CEPICAFE in Piura, an agricultural co-op with about 8,000 members.

The changes to the US Fair Trade standards recently adopted by FairTrade USA have left him very dissatisfied and vocal.  He is passionate about the benefits of Authentic Fair Trade and has the facts and experience to back up what he believes.  One participant in Santiago’s presentation at Life Source Natural Foods said, “I don’t speak Spanish, but I really felt like I could understand him, even without the translator.  His presentation is so direct.” (more…)

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By Becca Koganer, Sales Representative

The message is not as simple as telling customers to look for a seal, in fact, quite the opposite.”

Recently, I was asked by my brother-in-law to explain something about my professional life that he has never quite understood. A staunch capitalist, he believes that money motivates. How did we expect workers to give one hundred (and sometimes even more) to their jobs if the financial incentive is not there. How on earth could I be in sales and not make any commission?

I feel incredibly lucky to get these opportunities to educate outside of Equal Exchange’s normal base. Most often when I am explaining Equal Exchange’s organizational structure or our Campaign for Authentic Fair Trade I am talking to food co-ops, students, or long standing customers. The thing about education is that you have to meet people where they are, and it’s not much of a challenge if folks already understand WHY Equal Exchange is doing the work we do. (more…)

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An Open Letter to Green Mountain Coffee Roasters From Equal Exchange:

“Please Leave Fair Trade USA”

WEST BRIDGEWATER, MA―May 20, 2012―In a rare business-to-business plea Equal Exchange has released an open letter to Larry Blanford, the CEO of fellow New England specialty coffee company, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) in the form of a full-page color ad in today’s Sunday edition of the Burlington Free Press (Vermont) that strongly encourages the multi-billion dollar brand to withdraw its support from the controversial certification agency, Fair Trade USA (FTUSA).

Equal Exchange is the Massachusetts-headquartered business that introduced Fair Trade coffee to American grocery stores and coffee shops in the 1980s and 90s and who today remains the largest North American enterprise dedicated exclusively to buying and selling Fair Trade products. GMCR, based in Waterbury, VT, was itself an ‘early adopter’ and has been offering Fair Trade coffee for 14 years. To their considerable credit GMCR recently become the world’s largest purveyor of Fair Trade Certified™ coffee, handling more than 26,000,000 pounds of Fair Trade coffee annually. They have also donated generously to support various economic development efforts in coffee growing communities.

However, while acknowledging these accomplishments, in today’s ad Equal Exchange challenges GMCR to “open your eyes…to the controversy raging…” and “leave Fair Trade USA” in light of recent unilateral changes enacted by the agency.

Without input from stakeholders, on January 1, FTUSA abandoned the global Fair Trade system (Fair Trade International, aka FTI) and loosened eligibility rules to allow large coffee, cocoa and sugar plantations to receive Fair Trade certification. That would put these large estates in direct competition with the hundreds of small-farmer co-operatives around the world who co-created the Fair Trade movement and have been the core of Fair Trade for over 25 years. This was a FTUSA proposal that the 20+ other global members of FTI, including the farmer representatives, had overwhelmingly rejected previously. FTUSA also withheld from FTI the dues it owes for 2011, funds that it is now using to compete with FTI in the US certification market.

Equal Exchange, the small-farmer co-operatives, and many other Fair Trade pioneers and advocates believe these and other recent acts by FTUSA gravely undermine the very purpose of Fair Trade and constitute a betrayal of the small-farmer co-ops.  Consequently they also undermine the important social and economic progress that GMCR’s support of Fair Trade and small farmers has to date made possible.  The open letter goes on to state,

“Fair Trade, a product of years of sweat, sacrifice and risk, belongs to the farmers. But Fair Trade USA has abandoned the legitimate system, not paid its dues, and changed the rules…”

Rink Dickinson & Rob Everts, co-presidents, Equal Exchange

In different forums Equal Exchange has been challenging the path taken by FTUSA, including a recent private meeting with Larry Blanford and others at GMCR. Because of GMCR’s large volume of Fair Trade sales, and the licensing fees it pays for use of the FTUSA seal, it is the largest single source of revenue for FTUSA and a critical pillar of support. Those funds, and the benefits of being associated with the popular GMCR brand, are aiding FTUSA’s efforts even as it pursues a course apart from the rest of the global Fair Trade movement. Therefore Equal Exchange is using this ad, and a subsequent ad that will run on Thursday, May 24th, to publicly encourage GMCR to end its relationship with FTUSA and rejoin the global system of certifiers that FTUSA recently left.

About Equal Exchange
Equal Exchange has been a pioneer and U.S. market leader in Fair Trade since 1986 and is a full service provider of organic coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, bananas and other products. 100% of Equal Exchange products are fairly traded, benefiting more than 40 small farmer co-operatives in 25 countries around the world. In keeping with its Fair Trade mission Equal Exchange is a democratically governed, employee-owned co-operative, one of only a few in the US. Equal Exchange has been honored for its social entrepreneurship by Fast Company magazine, The Financial Times, WorldBlu and others.

For more information:





Rodney North

Desk        774-776-7398

Cell          617-571-0041

Skype       Rodney.north

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Yesterday you read how Jessie Myszka represented Equal Exchange on a visit with other co-op leaders to the White House to discuss the role of co-operatives in our economy and how our government can better support them.

Today, we bring you on another Equal Exchange visit; this time to Peru’s “White House”, or the Presidential Palace as it is called in Peru.

Well, we didn’t actually make the trip ourselves; rather, our chocolate bars did.

How did this happen?  Santiago Paz, Co-President of Cepicafe, and good friend to many of us here at Equal Exchange, was invited by Peru’s Vice President, Marisol Espinoza, to lunch at the Presidential Palace.

The background:  Cepicafe, a small farmer coffee co-operative located in Piura, Peru is one of Equal Exchange’s long-term partners.  Along with the members of other Fair Trade co-operatives in northern Peru, Cepicafe helped launch Marisol Espinoza’s political career.  A prominent journalist, with roots in the mountains of Piura, she often wrote about the challenges facing small farmers, learning much from her relationships with the co-ops.  Eventually, she was encouraged by the farmers to run for Congressional office.  To the surprise and delight of many, Marisol ran on an anti-mining and pro-small farmer platform – and won!  Her election illustrates one of the most important achievements of Fair Trade – the ability to influence regional politics.

In 2005, Ollanta Humala ran for President and invited Marisol to join his ticket.  She consulted with Cepicafe and other co-ops in the region and with their support, accepted his invitation.

Celebration in Piura after the 2006 Presidential elections.

Today, Marisol is Vice President and continues to use her position to support progressive economic and social policies affecting rural communities throughout Peru.

And so, last week when Santiago was invited to dine at the Presidential Palace, what did he decide to bring Marisol as a gift of appreciation?

Why, Equal Exchange chocolate bars of course!

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The following post was written by Jessie Myszka, Director of Support Operations, after her meeting at the White House on May 4th

Jessie Myszka of Equal Exchange and Melissa Hoover, Executive Director of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, at the White House meeting on cooperatives

In 2003, while meeting with coffee producers on an Equal Exchange visit to Guatemala, our farmer co-op hosts were proud to show us the power lines that snaked up the mountainside. Electricity had arrived just three months before our visit. I couldn’t help but wonder how life would change in Pueblo Nuevo; what unintended consequences would occur as a result?

This past Friday, I heard another side of the electrification story, this time recounted by staff of utility companies from the American midwest. Rural electrification in the 1930s took place through the formation of co-operatives because private companies believed the provision of electricity was not a profitable goal: electricity co-ops proved them wrong. During that time, 44 percent of the U.S. population was rural. Today, that percent has dropped to 16 percent. Still imagine: what would it be like if the power lines had never come?

Last Friday, I sat in a small auditorium on the White House campus with 150 cooperators from dozens of industries. White House staff and the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) had invited us to educate the administration, Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Small Business Administration (SBA) about what we co-operatives have done and what the federal government could do to help – or to get out of the way.

Now history repeats itself. Last week, the USDA announced a new loan program to extend broadband to rural communities. Access is important not only for schools and medical facilities, but also contributes to an infrastructure that supports both businesses and employment opportunities – thereby allowing communities to stay rural and sustainable. Customer call centers can be “insourced” to the countryside rather than exported abroad. This was just one example of the NCBA’s key message to the White House, USDA, and SBA: not only do co-operatives do better at sustaining the economy, but we co-operatives can offer solutions to the problems of the Great Recession. For example:

  • Nationally, mortgages provided through credit unions have much lower foreclosure rates.[1]
  • Of the hundreds of organizations who borrowed money from the Cooperative Fund of New England (CFNE) since 1975, 75% are still in business.[2]
  • CFNE also boasts a loan repayment rate exceeding 99% – much higher than conventional loan repayments[3].
  • Worker co-operatives contribute to individuals’ assets and are much more likely to redistribute hours than lay workers off during the recession.
  • In a recent survey by the Consumer Federation of America, people rated consumer co-operatives more highly than for-profit businesses on quality and service. For example, 74% of respondents agreed that co-operatives “have the best interests of customer in mind,” compared to only 52% of for-profit businesses.[4]

The speakers – from the USDA, National Economic Council, Domestic Policy Council, to the Chief of Staff Jack Lew – often began their own presentations with an anecdote about how after reading the co-ops’ profiles prepared by NCBA, they discovered that they had several personal connections to the co-operatives. Like lamp posts turning on one by one on a dark road, the prevalence of co-operatives and the benefits provided was illuminated:  no single light could be sufficient on its own.

[1] http://www.cutimes.com/2009/09/02/cus-foreclosing-on-fewer-homes-than-banks-and-not-as-quickly “In general, credit unions appear to be foreclosing on a smaller percentage of their mortgage loans than other financial institutions and are usually taking longer to do it, according to credit union executives and NCUA data.”

[2] NCBA case study for this White House briefing.

[3] The rate for SBA loans in 2009 was 12%, but this is not a fair comparison as it is a single year. The rate was 2.4% in 2004 and 8.4% in 2007. http://money.cnn.com/2009/02/25/smallbusiness/smallbiz_loan_defaults_soar.smb/

[4] NCBA news release, May 2, 2012.

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