I’m on my way to El Salvador and Honduras to visit our cashew co-op partners. Sadly, we got word last week that “unseasonable” rains and winds have destroyed 75% of this year’s cashew crop and the co-op in Salvador (Aprainores) has had to shut down their processing plant after just two weeks; laying off the 60 or so women whose income depends on the plant. Instead of the 60,000 or so pounds of cashews that Aprainores was planning to export this year, they will export nothing.

Very sad indeed.

This is the precarious nature of a small farmer co-op, becoming increasingly more difficult every day due to climate change.

It’s also the challenge for Alternative Trade Organizations, like Equal Exchange, that work hard to build these supply chains: working closely with our farmer co-op partners in the south and then just as diligently in the north where everything depends on an informed, educated and engaged citizen-consumer  and a retailer whose values, principles, and behaviors match our own.

On both ends of the supply chain, the bigger context is also becoming increasingly more challenging as government agriculture and trade policies, climate change, and the corporatization of the food system create an unwelcoming set of conditions to be navigated.  Despite the challenges however, the rays of hope and community shine through:  our model of alternative trade, authentic fair trade, a new economy- whatever you like to call it – will persevere because it is built on relationships, community, a concern for the planet, and a system which is based on the principle that people come before profits.

To quote our friends on the banana team, at OKE USA:  please look beyond the seal!  Ask questions before you purchase.  When we behave as engaged citizens – not just as consumers – we can awaken the sleeping giant and create the world we envision.



Photo by Kai Horstmann

Photo by Kai Horstmann

Dear Tea Drinkers,

I am absolutely convinced that if you knew the deplorable conditions in which the vast majority of tea workers lived; the endless studies documenting the human rights and labor rights violations rampant on tea gardens, tea estates, tea plantations (call them what you will), the child slavery, indentured slavery, human trafficking that goes on unpunished – I am absolutely convinced that you WOULD STOP BUYING TEA from most of the brands that you think of as the “established”, “reputable”, and “prestigious” companies stocked on your grocery stores’ shelves.

I am absolutely convinced that if you knew all this AND knew of the enormous profits and industry control of the entire tea supply chain, you would think twice about who your dollars are supporting.

Sadly, the vast majority of Fair Trade Teas on the market do not dramatically improve worker conditions, empower workers, nor most importantly, change either the overall situation or the balance of power for those doing the hardest work cultivating, picking, and processing tea.

The article below is just one more in an endless, seemingly ignored, expose of the abuses of the “conventional” tea industry.

It is hard not to feel tremendous pride, and a deep commitment to the work we at Equal Exchange, and more importantly, our small farmer tea partners in India, South Africa, and Sri Lanka are doing – against the current – to build small farmer supply chains and an informed, engaged consumer citizenry to transform the way in which we enjoy our morning or afternoon tea break.

Please help us support an alternative tea supply chain so that we can all wake up in the morning knowing that the tea we so enjoy is also supporting the dignity of those in the tea industry, and providing improved conditions, livelihoods, and communities of those far away from us geographically, but so connected to us in every other way.

Indian tea workers, a life without dignity

On the occasion of International Labor Day, the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition (GNRTFN) releases a report on the dire working and living conditions that tea plantations workers face in Assam and West Bengal, two tea producing regions in India.

Based on a GNRTFN fact finding mission (FFM), A Life without dignity – the price of your cup of tea highlights the human rights violations and abuses that India’s tea plantation workers have endured for generations, in particular of their right to adequate food and nutrition (RTFN) and related rights. The report also reflects years of work by two of its members, the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) and the Right to Food Campaign in India.

The findings show that tea workers are not receiving adequate living wages, and their working conditions are harsh and physically arduous. Without protective equipment, those who spray tea bushes are regularly exposed to pesticides. Female tea pluckers –around half of the work force – suffer from violations of their human rights. As a general rule, women plantation workers are subjected to violations of their maternity protection rights and benefits and face rampant discrimination at work; the wages they receive are less than those of men; and they have few, if any, promotional opportunities. These violations at the workplace are compounded by the pervasive human rights violations they face vis-a-vis their living conditions.

While the Plantation Labour Act (PLA) entrusts the tea plantation owners with the responsibility to provide tea workers and their families with basic needs, including drinking water, health care, education and housing, this could not be further from reality. Workers’ houses are old without any water supply or sanitation facilities and their children do not receive proper education. Workers’ families, who want their children not to live under the same conditions of life as current and previous generations, toil to provide a good education. Often, parents face huge barriers at every stage of their child’s growth. Health care and medicine are not within easy reach–physically or financially– nor are other basic necessities, such as water, sanitation, or electricity.

The lack of security of tenure appears to be at the core of their continued dependency on tea plantations. With workers having no legal right over their house and land, any management staff has the power to evict any worker currently out of work. This has meant that workers, particularly women, continue to work for pittance wages in order to keep a toehold on the only house that they possess, having lost their ties to their actual homeland over the last 200 years. The workers therefore continue to work in a state of bondage, frightened to organize and fight for better working conditions, as protests can mean eviction from their homes.
By enacting the PLA, the Government of India formalized the system that had kept workers completely dependent on tea plantation owners. This dependency becomes most obvious and detrimental when plantations close down – as is the case in West Bengal. Without any savings or a place to go, tea workers are forced to take drastic measures to ensure their survival and with some dying of hunger in extreme cases.

Amongst its key recommendations, the GNRTFN  calls on the State of India to take immediate actions to guarantee all human rights of tea workers, especially, the RTFN, housing, water, sanitation and education, in line with international and national law, ensuring close consultation with the concerned workers. Any decisions in relation to the future of tea gardens, including any structural alternatives, should be taken with the involvement of tea workers throughout the entire process. Understanding the impact of abandoned (closed) plantations on the lives of workers and their families, the Network also urges the State of India to pay urgent attention and adopt the necessary measures.

You can find the report here.


  • The FFM took place in tea plantations in Assam and West Bengal from 27th November 2015 to 4th December 2015. Pre-findings were presented in two press conferences in Kolkota and New Delhi.
  • The Network is an initiative of CSOs and social movements (peasants, fisherfolk, pastoralists, landless people, consumers, urban people living in poverty, agricultural and food workers, women, youth, and indigenous peoples) that recognize the need to act jointly for the realization of the RTFN.

Read more about Equal Exchange’s efforts to build an alternative tea supply chain here and here.

For more information about the FFM, please contact tang[at]fian.org  and cordova[at]fian.org
For media enquiries about the report, please contact delrey[at]fian.org
Read more about the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition


In honor of World Fair Trade Day, our friends at the Fair World Project have created this excellent 4-minute video that tells the story of authentic fair trade:  what it’s about; why it’s important to support organized small farmer co-operatives; and how we, consumers-citizens, can begin to take back our food system.

The motto, “Food For People Not Profits,” has never been more critical than it is today.  Behind the scenes, unbeknownst to most of us, corporations are controlling more and more of the way in which our food is grown, distributed, and sold to us.  We believe it is time to come together and fight back.  We can do this partly by supporting people-centric alternative supply chains from small farmers, to worker-owned democratically-run businesses, to natural food stores and co-operatives that actually care about people and the planet.


After watching the video, click here to learn more about Fair World Project and World Fair Trade Day, and if that’s not enough, how you can win a year supply of fair trade products!



berta-caceres-maizOn March 3, 2016, environmentalist and human rights activist Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home in Honduras. Berta was internationally recognized for her leadership in opposing a World Bank-financed dam project that would have devastated the lands where she and other indigenous Lenca people live.  In 2015, she  was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Daniel Fireside, Equal Exchange’s Capital Coordinator, spent several weeks on a speaking tour with Berta in 2001, ending at a massive protest in Quebec City against a failed attempt by George W Bush and other presidents to establish a hemisphere-wide free trade agreement.  He wrote this remembrance of Berta, whose courageous activism against the U.S.-backed military and economic oligarchy of Honduras and assassination has sparked renewed global attention to her work to defend the economic, political, cultural, and environmental rights of Hondurans and others fighting for global justice and solidarity.

To read Daniel’s article, click here.

To support Berta’s work, please visit Rights Action.

Equal Exchange buys significant amounts of coffee from Honduras.  Read here about some of the work we are doing with one of our small farmer coffee partners, COMSA.


Riobamba, Ecuador
Mexico City, Mexico
April 20, 2016

The organizations and individuals representing the Small Producers’ Symbol (SPP) express our solidarity with the people of Ecuador, its inhabitants in general, and in particular with those earthquake victims and their families. From this space we want to let them know that we sympathize with them as they try to confront this tragedy and the pain that the earthquake has caused them.

On April 16, Ecuador experienced an earthquake of magnitude 7.8 Mw, which has left more than 553 people dead, more than 4,000 wounded and 231 missing.  In addition, thousands of homes and much infrastructure has been either partially or completely destroyed.

The Ecuadorian government declared a state of emergency throughout the country and specifically in the provinces of Santa Elena, Manabi, Esmeraldas, Guayas, Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, and Los Rios.

The Small Producers’ Symbol represents 12 co-operative organizations in Ecuador – all part of the SPP family.  Of those twelve, we know that in at least two,  (FONMSOEAM and UOPROCAE) both the infrastructure of the co-operative, and the homes belonging to co-op members have been destroyed.  We are aware that damage has also occurred in several other organizations of small producers in the regions affected by the earthquake.

From the Small Producers ‘ Symbol, we want to convey to our brothers and sisters of Ecuador a message of solidarity and strength at this difficult time and ask for the solidarity and support worldwide.

Likewise, we support the Ecuadorian Coordinator of Fair Trade Organizations in the efforts they are taking at the national level to channel support and solidarity from all of the friends of the small producers of fair trade, and any other person or organization that wants to contribute the reconstruction efforts beginning at the local level.

If you would like to support the organizations that have been affected, you can make a donation and earmark your contribution to the Ecuadorian Earthquake Reconstruction effort.

In the United States, Equal Exchange and Fair World Project have teamed together to collect donations.

Please send a tax-deductible contribution to:

Fair World Project
PO Box 42322
Portland, OR 97242
OR click here to donate through Pay Pal or credit card.

As we get more information on the damage and the appropriate types of support needed, we will let you know.  At the moment, the assessment of damages are still being made.  Sadly, they appear to already exceed by far the already very tragic official figures of dead and wounded.

Small Producers’ Symbol

Building Up together a world of justice and solidarity!

On April 19th, WBEZ Chicago aired the following 19 minute radio interview about the conventional banana industry (owned and controlled by just a handful of multinational conglomerates like Dole and Chiquita) and the small farmer alternative which places small farmers, ethical retailers, and engaged consumers center stage in a growing movement.

One banana:  Two very different paths.  Which one do you choose?


The Banana Supply Chain And The Movement To Change It

April 19, 2016

Click here to hear the 19 minute radio broadcast.

The interactive web documentary Beyond the Seal follows bananas from the fields of Ecuador to the U.S. supermarket and investigates a growing Fair Trade movement for the fruit.

Dan Koeppel, author of Bananas: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World and Nicole Vitello, president at Fair Trade banana importer Oké USA Fruit Company, are both featured in the documentary.

They join us to talk about the farmers, activists and business leaders who are working to change the U.S. banana industry.

Beyond The Seal was produced by Leah Varjacques and WBEZ intern Katherine Nagasawa.

We are so excited to announce that Beyond the Seal has been nominated for a Real Food Film award.

The finalists of the contest will be judged in several categories, and one film will also be awarded the People’s Choice award. Watch a clipfrom Beyond the Seal and other food-based films, then cast your vote!

Beyond the Seal | 2016 Real Food Films Finalist
Beyond the Seal filmmakers Leah Varjacques and Katherine Nagasawa.
Coming up in Chicago — Beyond the Seal Screening — Tuesday April 19th:
Join Equal Exchange’s Nicole Vitello and Rink Dickinson, along with the filmmakers Katherine Nagasawa and  Leah Varjacques, banana expert Dan Koeppel, and Dill Pickle Coop‘s Amber Zook at 7 pm at Northwestern University’s Harris Hall.
Learn more here.