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The following article, written by Dana Geffner, Executive Director of the Fair World Project, was published on November 6, 2015 in the Huffington Post.


I regularly look at product labels because that is part of my job. So when I come across a label that says Direct Trade, or even “Direct Trade Certified,” I have to wonder why a brand would compel themselves to create something for consumers in order to differentiate themselves that really doesn’t mean much. As someone that has worked in the fair trade movement for 15 years, I always dig deeper into those claims to see what they really mean.

Many brands are frustrated by fair trade certification, and let me be very clear, it is certification, not fair trade they are frustrated with. There is a social movement to change the way we trade globally, allowing small-scale producers to participate and thrive, and to provide social services locally in impoverished producer communities that are not provided by local or federal governments. That social movement is called fair trade and it is alive and strong. It is fair trade certification that is broken. Fair trade is more than a logo or a brand, it is a movement to strengthen communities.

Read the entire article here.

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The following article about one of our cashew trading partners, Fair Trade Alliance of Kerala (FTAK), appeared in yesterday’s on-line issue of the Guardian.


A walk through the annual Kerala seedfest, in the sultry heat of India’s Western Ghats, is like a walk through a proverbial garden of Eden; okra the size of a hand; deep purple coloured runner beans; 26 varieties of chillies from one village alone. The size and colours of multiple bananas on offer here make a mockery of the fact that your average supermarket sells just one type.

With women and men standing proudly alongside their produce, this celebration of seeds and biodiversity is the future of farming: it is abundant, resilient and most importantly, smallholder led.

As farmers cope with the dual crises of a changing climate and rising population, the debate rages about the future of agriculture, with large-scale agribusiness being pitted against smallholders. In one corner, agribusiness is perceived as more efficient and technologically savvy; in the other corner, the smallholder is portrayed as less productive and in need of charity. Scale is generally perceived as the measure of success in farming, as with everything else: farmers are effectively told to expand, innovate, or move on.

But a collective of 4,500 farmers who call themselves Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK) are at the annual gathering to demonstrate their own third way: small scale, innovative, market-embracing and sustainable.

Read the full article here.

Click here to read about a visit Equal Exchange made to FTAK in 2013.


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On Christmas Eve 2014, journalists working at the Guardian received the following email from their editor,  Alan Rusbridger.

It read:


This time next year I won’t be the editor of the Guardian: indeed, well before that I’ll have stepped down.

I’m not at all depressed. This is the right time to be moving on. But I do have an urge to do something powerful, focused and important with the Guardian while I’m still here. And it will be about climate change.

Sometimes there’s a story so enormous that conventional journalism struggles to cope with it, never mind do justice. The imminent threat to the species is the most existentially important story any of us could imagine telling – for our sakes, for our children and for their children. But, as journalists, we also know that we sometimes tire of telling, and that people tire of reading.”

Rusbridger’s email sparked a series of discussions among his team, eventually leading them to take on, “The Biggest Story in the World:  The Race to Save the Earth.”  The journalists began focusing on stories that would motivate readers and listeners to understand the desperate need for urgent action.  In March 2015, they initiated a full-fledged campaign, entitled Keep it in the Ground.  Based on the work of Bill McKibbon, who founded the 350.org climate campaign that launched the divestment movement, the Guardian is calling on the world’s biggest medical charities – the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation and the Wellcome Trust – to divest from fossil fuels; and to encourage others to follow suit … before it is too late.

It now appears that the work of Bill McGibbon, 350.org, the Guardian, and many other activist organizations and individuals is growing exponentially.  On September 22nd, the Guardian ran an article, “Institutions worth $2.6 trillion have now pulled investments out of fossil fuels,” in which they announced that a coalition of 2,000 individuals and 400 institutions have pledged to shift their assets from coal, oil and gas companies to tackle climate change.

“Scientists agree that most existing coal, oil and gas reserves must remain in the ground if global warming is to be kept below the internationally-agreed danger limit of 2C. This means that, if action on climate change is successful, the vast majority of fossil fuels will be unburnable and the companies owning those reserves could crash in value. Many coal companies have already seen their share prices crash as limits on carbon emissions get stricter…”

“…The fossil fuel divestment movement, aimed primarily at stripping legitimacy from fossil fuel companies, has grown faster than even the divestment movement that targeted apartheid South Africa and it is backed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.”

The list of institutions and individuals who have pledged to Divest-Invest continues to grow and the heat is on, so to speak, to gather as many pledges as possible before the COP21 Climate Talks in Paris this December.  In the words of Leonardo DiCaprio, who just took the Pledge for himself and his foundation, “Climate change is severely impacting the health of our planet and all of its inhabitants, and we must transition to a clean energy economy that does not rely on fossil fuels. Now is the time to divest and invest to let our world leaders know that we, as individuals and institutions, are taking action to address climate change, and we expect them to do their part in Paris.”

Here closer to home in the U.S., we at Equal Exchange have seen first-hand, not just the brutal storms that have devastated parts of the Northeast, the droughts and wildfires that have ravished the West, and all the other evidence of climate change in our own communities, but sadly the impact that unpredictable weather patterns and unusual climatic occurrences are wreaking on our farmer partners across the Global South.  So many of the advances that our farmer partners have been able to achieve through our work and the Fair Trade model, are tragically disappearing.  In fact, the livelihoods – and in some cases, the very existence – of many small farmer co-ops is now threatened.

But, there’s even more exciting news since this Guardian article was published! Equal Exchange has joined a coalition of 18 environmental and social justice organizations working with Divest-Invest to encourage individuals to join this growing movement.  While the work will continue on, we have all agreed to step up our efforts, through October 18th to collect as many pledges as possible. As of this morning, the number has grown to 24,868! 

And so, for the sake of our farmer partners, ourselves, and families, and the health of our planet, we invite you to join us to take the Divest-Invest Pledge. Whether you are a thousandaire, a millionaire, or have no money at all, taking the Pledge NOW sends a strong message!

Read more here about our initiative and ways you can help.  Click here to take the Pledge.


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pope francis

During Pope Francis’ much heralded visit to the U.S. last week, he gave top priority to the pressing issues of economic disparity and injustice, and the threat that climate change poses to humanity and to the planet.  In his speeches before Congress and again at the United Nations, Pope Francis urged world leaders to take the threat of global warming seriously and to act quickly to take steps to reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to this crisis.   He also talked about the ways in which climate change disproportionately affects the poor and reminded us that those of us in the North need to shoulder the burden of responsibility to address this crisis.

“Very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system,” he writes in his June 18, 2015 Encyclical “Laudato Si.”  “This problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels.”  He goes on to say, “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.”  And finally, on page 122, he writes:  “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay…. Politics and business have been slow to react in a way commensurate with the urgency of the challeng­es facing our world.”  

Politics and business (as usual) have indeed been slow to react.  And this is why it is up to us…. progressive businesses, workers, activists, engaged citizens…  We know from history that change happens from the bottom up and that vested interests (in this case, the fossil fuels industry) never willingly give up power or their economic interests.

Equal Exchange has joined a growing number of organizations that are working to build a citizen movement to stand up to these interests and say No to the fossil fuel economy and yes to a clean energy future.  Just like the apartheid movement and the anti-tobacco movement, thousands of voices (and our dollars) can make a difference.  Click here to read about our Climate Justice Initiative and please click here to add your name to the thousands of people taking the Divest-Invest pledge.

It’s time to take action!

Please sign the pledge today!

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spp_v_floInterested in Fair Trade certifications but still confused about the difference between Fair Trade International and the Small Producer Symbol?  Read a brief synopsis from Fair World Project of a new article by Patrick Clark and Ian Hussey which compares the two.

A new article by Patrick Clark and Ian Hussey just published in New Political Economy compares the certification systems of Fairtrade International (FTI) and the Small Producer Symbol (SPP), looking at internal and external oversight, governance structure, and covering the history of fair trade certification through which FTI evolved and SPP emerged. For those wanting a theoretically-grounded, academic overview of these two systems and some key issues in how fair trade certification functions, this is an excellent overview.

A few key points were made that would be of interest to even the average observer.  Read more here.

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By Leif Rawson-Ahern, Tea Supply Chain Developer

On September 8, the BBC posted a heartbreaking account of the living and working conditions at the Doomur Dullung plantation, in Assam, India. BBC journalists uncovered tea plantation workers and their families living and working in shocking conditions. They found workers living in dilapidated homes with no access to toilets and drinking water contaminated by raw sewage. Child labor violations, dangerous working conditions, and rampant malnutrition and disease were all too-commonly reported and verified.

Unfortunately, we know through our work in tea, that this reality has been going on for far too long, is widespread, and well known. Dominated by large multinational companies, the tea industry remains one of the last vestiges of the British colonial era. It’s outrageous that this system of vast exploitative plantations has remained unchanged – and unchallenged – since the 1800s.

That’s why Equal Exchange is working to build an alternative tea model, one that challenges the conventional industry and supports small-scale tea farming co-operatives and their communities. We’re proud to partner with growers in India, South Africa and Sri Lanka to forge a more equitable system that is built on farmer empowerment, ownership, and control. You can read more here about our revolutionary tea partners, like the Potong Tea Garden in Darjeeling, India. Once a colonial plantation, the Potong Tea Garden is now collectively run and majority-owned by its workers. Together, they are paving a stronger, more democratic path forward for their families and community. Groups like Potong show us that a more equitable model in tea can be achieved.

The Equal Exchange small farmer tea line was created to prove that a different tea model is possible. We invite you to join with us to raise awareness about the inequalities and injustice in the tea system and to make a positive choice when you make your next tea purchase.

Read the full story and watch the videos from the BBC here.

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What does it mean to create change with your everyday choices? We believe that something as simple as the coffee you drink or the chocolate you eat can have an effect on the planet and our global community, and you have the power to make that effect a positive one.


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The following was written by Carly Kadlec, Green Coffee Buyer

“We have to change how we treat our soil, though, and that starts with agriculture. Our current model is broken: Great swaths of natural, carbon-absorbing prairies have been converted into monocultures dependent on tilling, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Modern industrial farming is now responsible for 70 percent of the world’s water use and emits more carbon dioxide than all of our cars, planes and trains combined. The soil beneath these monocultures is all but robbed of its natural resilience and ability to support life.”

–Yvon Chouinard from the recent Patagonia publication on prairie restoration partnerships

While Yvon Chouinard is talking about prairies and their link to a healthy ecosystem in this particular excerpt, the principles apply to the coffee farmers in our supply chain who grow coffee in mountainous tropical forests. Coffee farmers in the Equal Exchange supply chain are pursuing an idea of regenerative agriculture with a strong focus on recovering soil health.

During a trip to Riosucio, Caldas, Colombia in July, Beth Ann Caspersen, Equal Exchange coffee quality manager, and I got to experience some of the regenerative soil action that is happening in organic coffee production first hand. Fredy Pérez Zelaya, a farmer and member of Café Orgánico Marcala S.A. (COMSA) in Marcala, Honduras, traveled with us to participate in ASPROCAFE Ingrumá’s annual farmer fair, and shared his experience with microorganisms. Fredy trained and studied as an agronomist in a very traditional program that emphasized conventional agricultural practices and interventions to maximize productivity. However, he had a powerful shift of life philosophy in the early 2000s and was a founding member of COMSA, an association of coffee growers who share the belief that organic agriculture was the only option to truly prosper and progress as coffee farmers.

As the members of COMSA experimented on their farms and exchanged ideas with other growers, their organic philosophy grew and grew. Today, they emphasize the 5 Ms: organic Material, Microorganisms, Minerals, living Molecules, and gray Matter (or brain power) as the foundation for their organic vision. Microorganisms are the billions of bacteria, fungi, yeast, etc. that live in soil and have a positive impact on decomposing organic matter and building healthy soil. All five of the Ms relate fundamentally to soil health and that brings us back to the wonderful words of Yvon Chouinard about how we must double down and focus on soil if we want to talk about regenerative and organic agriculture.

Read more here.

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UntitledFor years now, our small farmer co-op partners have been struggling to keep their land, continue farming, supply us with high quality products, provide food for their families, and earn a dignified livelihood.  They have to do this for the most part without support from public or private sectors.  Governments have generally disinvested in agriculture, particularly small scale agriculture, banks don’t lend to campesinos or small-scale co-operative enterprises, resources for training and technical assistance are virtually non-existent. Now, due to unpredictable climatic changes, they now have to do all this and do it while confronting droughts during the rainy seasons; frosts during the summer seasons; excessive rainfall during the dry seasons; hurricane-like winds that blow fruit off the trees; unusually high tides that salinate farmlands; and so on; and so on.

On a positive note, organic agriculture has been receiving attention for its contribution to healthy farms, people, and food. Recently we are also beginning to hear more and more about the benefits that micro-organisms play in soil productivity, and the benefits that soil plays in sequestering carbon from the air….. all this gives us new hope that strategies do exist to reverse climate change….

We just need to learn more about the way that small scale producers are caring for the soil, water, forests, and eco-systems, support them in their efforts to steward the environment, and take action here in the North to stop polluting our resources and spewing more carbon dioxide into the air.

In the following article, Ronnie Cummins, Director of the Organic Consumers Association, writes about the power of regenerative agriculture to solve many of the crises we face today.

Read the article here.

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The following post was written by Lincoln Neal, Equal Exchange worker-owner in our Portland, Oregon office.
The fight against climate change arrived in our Pacific NW backyard last week when 13 Greenpeace activists suspended themselves 100 feet over the Willamette River from the massive St. Johns Bridge in northwest Portland just four miles up St Helens Rd from our West Coast distribution center.

Their goal was to block the newly repaired Shell Oil icebreaker MSV Fennica from leaving the city and travelling to Alaska where it would be used for arctic oil drilling. With the help of a flotilla of kayaktavists, including workers from Equal Exchange, Greenpeace managed to hold the massive 380-foot, 8000-ton ship in check for nearly 40 hours.

On Thursday, July 30th Equal Exchange employees Jim Feldmann, Meghan Huebner, Casey Enns and myself loaded a delivery van with 8 cases of trail mix, 20 cases of cashew bars and a couple of gallons of iced tea. The St. Johns Bridge had been closed; and there was no public access to the demonstration from our side of the river. So what would normally be an easy 20-minute drive turned into an hour and a half stretch in slow moving traffic: we of course were glued to the live broadcast of the event.

Earlier in the day, unbelievably, the Fennica had been successfully turned back at the bridge.   Since then, many more supporters were converging on the scene. We learned from the broadcast that one of the protesters had been lowered down and then removed from the bridge. No explanation was given, but that made four who had come down; leaving only nine activists dangling from the bridge.

The park follows the river for about a mile, two hundred feet below the bridge deck. When we arrived, hundreds of people were milling around on the grass and the small beach areas. Families, news people and energetic demonstrators were buzzed by a couple of small drones filming overhead. Just off the shore we saw about 50 kayaks, protected by wooden piles that poked a couple of feet above the water. We left our iced tea at a donations table and walked down to the floating dock beneath the bridge.

There, dozens of supporters were chanting encouragement to the kayactivists while also goading the coast guard and police vessels that harassed them. We handed out the trail mix and cashew bars like vendors at a sporting event calling out “Fair Trade! Organic! Snacks!” The dock was beyond capacity and was dipping into the water. Which was good. It was over 100 degrees in Portland that day. We wondered how the protesters hanging from the bridge were faring. We had already seen at least one exhausted, collapsed woman being attended to by paramedics.

After handing out the remaining snacks, we jumped down to the beach south of the dock. Meghan, Jim and Casey managed to secure kayaks and canoes and made their way out to the water. Moments later someone to the south started shouting that the Fennica was on the move. Shortly after, the giant icebreaker floated into view. Cops on jet skis were darting around the edge of the river intentionally spraying the kayakers and ramming them. Whenever anyone would resist, such as pushing them away with a paddle, a police boat would move in and try to drag the occupants from their craft.

The supporters on the dock began shouting at the police as the Fennica continued to move closer and closer to the bridge. All of a sudden a call went up and the kayakers dove toward the center of the river all at once. The coast guard and police were caught off guard by the chaotic scramble of small boats. The authorities recovered, however, and made a defensive wedge against the protesters, keeping the west side of the river open. With only nine activists now hanging from the bridge, enough room was created for the Fennica to safely pass beneath the St. Johns Bridge.

Read Meghan Huebner’s first hand account from one of the kayaks here tomorrow.

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