Equal Exchange needs you.
As Equal Exchange turns 30 this year, and we reflect on the journey we have traveled, we are both immensely proud and infinitely concerned. We have accomplished more than we ever dreamed possible back in 1986. We have sparked enormous reform in the U.S. specialty coffee industry. And we have built a supply chain from scratch that, against all odds, gives small farmer co-ops a fighting chance and a seat at the table.
We are one of the largest and most successful worker co-ops in the country. We are one of the largest Alternative Trade Organizations (ATOs) in the world. But despite this success we know the path forward is more perilous than it has ever been.
The Fair Trade idea may have won success in the last 10 years, but that success has been very limited. And in the process of gaining recognition and support, control has been wrested from small farmers and turned into a marketing attribute at the service of northern companies; it has been commodified and stripped of all real meaning. While some northern ATOs are still here and hundreds of farmer groups in the Global South hang on, “Fair Trade” as envisioned 30 years ago is no longer recognizable.
We now know that we cannot possibly succeed in our goal to transform the food system without the active, deep, and committed participation of citizen-consumers like you. An authentic Fair Trade system requires democratic organizing of producers in the South, worker democracy for businesses in the North, and active citizen involvement in the North.
In the wider food system, corporations control everything from seeds to supply and prices, while relentlessly chipping away at the regulations that inform and protect consumers. They fight feverishly to prevent us from knowing if GMOs are present in our food. They continue to promote production methods that hasten the warming of the planet—a present day threat to millions of small farmers and others around the world. And, corporations count on consumers remaining unorganized to maintain the status quo.
For these reasons, we are taking a powerful, new step in building a democratic brand that connects small farmers in the South to citizen-consumers in the North. We believe that in order to be successful in realizing the original Fair Trade vision, we need to deepen involvement and participation in our model. In doing this we go back to the best that Alternative Trade has always been about: innovation, global solidarity, social imagining and learning, and economic justice. This will be a long, slow process and a great challenge. We need your buying support, your investing support, and your political support.
Please join us in building this dream. We invite you to help us shape a new initiative that we are launching this year: the Equal Exchange Action Forum.
Our vision is of a vibrant community of citizen-consumers, working together to deepen our collective understanding of these issues and taking actions where strategic. We imagine a focus on learning and sharing in the first year as together we give this initiative more form. Within the context of Equal Exchange’s mission, we will share the challenges and successes we experience in building supply chains for small farmers. Over time, we will take actions that challenge the corporate control of food, increase the market viability of small farmers and their co-operatives, and reshape our food system in ways that benefit all of us.
What are some issues we will engage in?
- Lessons from our first 30 years:
- The origins of authentic Fair Trade
- Coffee co-operatives: the potential and the challenges of democracy
- The Fair Trade system gone awry
- From tea to nuts: the successes and setbacks in building small farmer supply chains
- Climate change: can citizen-consumers help farmers survive this man-made assault on their livelihoods?
- The corporatization of the food system:
- Who owns the organic industry?
- Can consumers retake control of our food?
- How can we support independent businesses trying to survive the crush of corporate food consolidation?
What are the different forums for involvement? Early thoughts include:
- Dedicated online space for members of the Action Forum
- Webinars, podcasts and blogs
- Seminars and other in-person educational events
- Cookouts and social events
- Direct actions including letter-writing and protest actions within the context of food politics, agriculture and trade, climate justice, and economic, social and political rights
How do I join?
Great question! We are looking for committed individuals who may be engaged with Equal Exchange around these issues at any number of levels. We have created a simple application with three different paths to join the Equal Exchange Action Forum. It only takes one, but you may qualify via one, two or even all three:
- Drinker/Eater of Equal Exchange products
Interested? Apply here.
We are very excited to hear from you and to launch this new initiative with your support. Together, with our collective ideas, commitment and passion, let’s build a more just food system that works for small farmers, for consumers and for generations to come.
Rink Dickinson & Rob Everts