Posts Tagged ‘Fair Trade’

It’s mid-March which means Equal Exchange Banana Month is in full swing! This March also marks our 10th year in the banana trade. To celebrate, we are promoting a new web documentary called Beyond the Seal.

This is the second of a three-part series that digs deep into Beyond the Seal (missed Part 1? Click here).

A recap: Beyond the Seal is the story of a group of small farmers – and the activists and visionaries behind them – striving to change the banana industry as we know it. Through a model of business called Fair Trade, these producers are building a more just supply chain, one that prioritizes their health, their families and their community.

Beyond the Seal is a web documentary divided into 5 chapters.

THIS WEEK: Watch Chapter 2

In Chapter 2, meet Anibal Cabrera, a small-scale banana producer and member of the AsoGuabo Cooperative in Ecuador. Take a peek into Anibal’s life and learn how the Fair Trade model strengthens and empowers AsoGuabo.

GO further, get together with your staff and answer the following questions:

  1. How does the Fair Trade model support small producers?
  2. Under Fair Trade, producers receive a dollar per 40 lb. box of bananas as social premium. Do you see any difference between the premium and development aid or charity?
Watch now at beyondtheseal.com

Banana Month Buzz

Look who’s watching! A very special tweet from Marion Nestle, NYU Professor and renowned author of Food Politics:
Shout out to Honest Weight  for celebratingBanana Month with this incredible display! That’s 32 cases of bananas.
Check out this eye-catching display atLebanon Co-op in NH!

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The following article was written on May 5th, by Jerónimo Pruijn, Executive Director of the Foundation of Small Producers (FUNDEPPO)

SPP members voting at the Annual Meeting in Panama, May 2015

Rosa Guaman, President of the SPP, and other members voting at the Annual Meeting in Panama City, May 2015

There is no better day than today, May 5th, to share some words about the Small Producers’ Symbol (SPP, for its Spanish Acronym). I was born in Holland, and on May 5th  in Holland, we celebrate Liberation Day, the day the occupation ended during World War II.

The SPP is also a symbol of liberation: the liberation of small producers of the global South.

The SPP was given birth the 26th of March 2006. Of course, a period of pregnancy came first. To fully understand the origin of the SPP, it is important to go back to the beginnings of fair trade. The first fair trade label, Max Havelaar was a result of a search by the Mexican small producers’ coffee cooperative, UCIRI, for better access to preferential, solidarity markets, in close collaboration with the Solidaridad Foundation in Holland. Fair trade soon turned out to be an important tool and ‘motor’ for small producers’ organizations that were in the process of consolidating their organizational and entrepreneurial efforts in different countries of the South. We should not forget that some of these producers’ organizations have their origin in the eighties, others even in the seventies or the sixties of the last century.

As a result of the rapid progress and positive impact of fair trade, in the 1990s, producers’ organizations of Latin America involved in fair trade, but also from Africa and from Asia, started organizing or strengthening existing international networks of producers’ organizations involved in fair trade. In the beginning, these networks were mainly coffee producers, but soon also came small honey, fruit and other producer’ organizations. In the case of Latin America, these international networks were mainly promoted and maintained by the coops themselves, without any external support. This process ended up in the constitution of CLAC, the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Small Fair Trade Producers, in 2004.

By then, discussions around the content and parameters of the concept of fair trade were starting to become more and more common. At the start of fair trade, at the end of the eighties, both producers as well as consumers, viewed the idea of fair trade as equivalent to that of supporting small producers’ organizations. By the time the CLAC was created, this equivalence (that fair trade was synonomous with producer support) was no longer that clear. In some new products, such as bananas, the fair trade concept was extended to private plantations, meant to benefit their workers. On the other hand, fair trade´s success also had attracted the attention of multinational companies which before had not shown any interest in this model. The broadening of the concept went along with the growth of the market for small producers. Producers were happy with this growth of opportunities, but also worried about the role small producers’ organizations played in the concept and decision-making of fair trade.

The SPP was launched as an effort to identify small producers’ organizations in the wider movement of fair trade. At the same time it was a next step in the appropriation process of the supply chain. Producers’ organizations have always been looking for ways to increase their influence and control in the different stages of the supply chain, aiming to maximize the benefits for the small producers and their communities. Producers’ organizations had been increasing their capacities, partly with the stimulating power of fair trade, to sell their products more professionally, looking for the improvement of quality as well as the increase of added values. More and more producer organizations started to get involved in the production of end-products for local markets. The SPP was meant to help these organizations to promote their products, both in the local markets, as well in the international markets, as being exclusively from small producers’ organizations.

In the beginning, the SPP was not launched as a certification system, just as a distinction for small producers’ organizations within the fair trade movement. As traders and also producer’s organizations started to request the active use of the label, feasibility studies were done, with positive results. The main expectations of the producers’ organizations by that time was that it should identify themselves; be an accessible system, in terms of costs and of simplicity; it should be adaptable to the circumstances of each and every producer organization; it should not be prescriptive in terms of detailed compliance criteria; it should be applicable to both local and global markets and it should be credible. Finally the development of the SPP ended up in the launch of a full-fledged standards and certification system at the beginning of 2011.

Currently, around sixty thousand families of around 60 small producers’ coops are certified, from 13 Latin American countries and Indonesia. Volumes of purchases and sales on the markets have been increasing steadily, both in the Northern markets, as well as in the local markets of producers’ countries. We expect this year to have the first couple of African producers-organizations participating.

What makes the SPP different from other fair and sustainable trade labels?

This is a very relevant question in the context of an avalanche of labels around the world. In the very first place, it is a 100% producer-owned initiative. It was launched in 2006 as the ‘open home’ of small producers, a place in which they can build their own future, a place where they have control and where they can receive friends. The producers are the ones who have developed and still fully steer the SPP.

It is a place where they can build their ideal world, a different economy and society, with the help and solidarity of friends. As it is built by their own efforts, it is being built and expanded step by step, guaranteeing the foundation is strong enough to carry the weight of the building when it grows. Producers decide on standards and carry the full responsibility of what they decide. In the SPP, nobody tells producers what´s good for them; they know what they need and what´s reasonable and they fight for it. At the SPP, producers do not have a share in decision-making, they make the decisions, and, wisely involve their trade-partners in the decision making process. The SPP as the incarnation of the empowerment of small producers, the ultimate goal and result of fair trade.

Recently the new General Assembly of the SPP, run by the Foundation of Small Producers (FUNDEPPO) was established and a new board was appointed. The board is composed of six small producers’ representatives from 6 different countries and of three representatives of committed traders, also from different countries and continents. This way the SPP brings the producers and the traders together to make trade and consumer-involvement possible, without anybody standing in between. The newly appointed Chair is Mrs. Rosa Guamán, the indigenous leader or an herbs-producing co-operative from Ecuador. She is an example of the process of liberation of indigenous people in producer countries as a result of an historic struggle and somebody who has a lot to show and teach to the world about the importance of creating a more inclusive and equal economy and society.

The SPP is about building a different and better reality ‘down-top’, not ‘top-down’. Small producers increasingly feel the menace of the tendency of many labels to become some kind of wishing list of perfect practices and behavior, politically, socially and ethically. Expectancies towards producers have become lists of strict requirements and high thresholds. Criteria are imposed from the North on the South, on an increasing amount of topics. This without considering all the costs involved in fulfilling all these criteria. Democratic small producers are put to compete with huge private production companies with strong hierarchical structures and which logically have lower production costs.

Fair trade should always recognize the multiples values and contributions of the work of democratic small producers and their organizations. The SPP makes these values visible, such as building stronger local economies, more democratic societies and fighting climate change. Values which have strong direct and indirect impacts, even on the wellbeing of consumers far away. The producers of the SPP look for traders, consumers and professionals that believe in the importance and capacities of small producer’s organizations and fair trade as a model of sustainable and self-managed development and inclusionary processes.

At the SPP we want to invite people to build a better world together, as a joint responsibility, not only as the responsibility of producers.

The minimum prices and compensations for organic production are key for the SPP-producers. The SPP prices are probably the highest in the market, but this is the only way fair and sustainable trade can really offer the impact and changes it promises. The producers of the SPP want to show the world what their work and lives are worth and have decided not to bargain away their dignity ever again. They know it is not easy and that it will be a long and probably endless struggle. But that is what liberation is all about, to be able to take responsibility for your own life and future.


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On our way back from a meeting with one of the women's groups organized through FTAK, somewhere between the towns of Kudiyanmala and Vellad.

A brief stop on our way back from a meeting with one of the women’s groups organized through FTAK, somewhere between the towns of Kudiyanmala and Vellad.

Fair Trade Alliance of Kerala, (FTAK) a 4500-member co-operative of small farmers in southern India, has created an exciting initiative to articulate and put into practice what most fair trade farmer co-operatives understand empirically.  Fair Trade is important but it’s simply not enough.  It’s a starting point; a means to an end; certainly not the end itself.  Like kicking off the day with a well-balanced breakfast, selling cash crops on fair trade terms is a  foundation from which so much else becomes more possible.  But, like the role that a healthy breakfast plays in someone’s day, it is what comes afterwards that brings true community empowerment, development, and social change. (more…)

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… and having trouble navigating the waters?

Many thanks to Fair World Project for their easy-to-use, interactive, fun tool to help you distinguish between seven different certification schemes.

Meets FWP’s expectations and/or is a model program in this area.

Acceptable policy that at least meets current industry standards, but there is room for improvement.

Problem area/red flag that needs immediate improvement.

Click here to see how seven certification schemes measure up to a list of “fair” criteria and then see which brands use the different certification labels on their products.

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The following post was written by Beth Ann Caspersen, Quality Control Manager, Equal Exchange

I was in a hot room, sitting in a circle with colorfully dressed Ugandan women representing the 10 primary societies of Gumutindo Coffee Co-op. Right away I knew that I was taking part in something special.

Ugandan FamilyIt was 2010, and while I travel to coffee regions frequently, this was my first visit to Uganda. We’d created this open space to get to know each other better. I wanted to learn about the daily lives of these women, many of whom struggle to cultivate coffee to sell to buyers like Equal Exchange, and grow their beloved matoke (banana) for consumption in the home, on a small piece of land. They also wanted to hear about my life in the United States, and about my son, Magnus. For me, this was the beginning of a journey that would teach me about the lives of some of these women in intimate detail: their trials and tribulations, joys and celebrations.

Read more here.

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Fair Trade in Crisis

“Fair Trade is in crisis”, says Frans Van der Hoff, one of the co-founders of the Fair Trade system which was created in the late 1980’s, in a recent interview aired on CBC Radio in Canada. “We’re in a crisis but it’s a positive crisis. Because now you have to rethink and redo and make it [the system] a lot better.”

Van der Hoff, a Dutch professor, Catholic worker priest, and coffee farmer in Mexico, helped found Max Havelaar (a precursor to FLO International, the Fair Trade Labeling Organization) and UCIRI, a co-operative in Oaxaca, Mexico, which was the first producer co-operative to sell its coffee through the Fair Trade system. Last month, Dispatches interviewed Van der Hoff about his views on Fair Trade: why the movement got started, how it’s doing, and where it’s heading.

The interview couldn’t have come at a better time. Consumer confusion about the goals and impact of Fair Trade vs. other brands and certifications is at an all-time high. And that should come as no surprise. The certifying agencies (FLO International and Transfair USA) have watered down the purpose and integrity of the movement, aiming for dollars over mission, breadth over depth, as they lower standards to increase the number of products available on the shelves (see the latest interview proclaiming the “marriage” between Transfair and Starbucks on You Tube.)

Somewhere along the line, the certifiers began marketing Fair Trade as a poverty alleviation strategy, rather than an economic transformation model as it was originally intended. Alleviation means, “to lessen (pain, for example); to make more bearable.” Fair Trade was actually created to provide producers with a basic level of security, a social net to raise people out of abject conditions so that they would have the ability to approach their situations with more complex strategies, not to alleviate, but to change their economic conditions. The original founders of Fair Trade knew that economic conditions don’t change by extending charity. They understood the far more impactful goal of supporting farmer organizations so that together, the farmers can tackle the myriad issues which will enable them to create better conditions for themselves. Organized farmers build economic and political power, create social programs, lobby governments, enlist the collaboration of others by building solidarity networks. This is the true power (and potential) of Fair Trade.


How refreshing to hear one of the founders, and respected leaders of the movement, speak to these issues. In this ten minute interview, conducted by Dispatches, Van der Hoff offers his opinions on the division in the Fair Trade community and some of the misperceptions that the public has – or has been told – about the purpose and role of Fair Trade. We encourage you to listen to the full ten minute interview. The following are a few highlights we’d like to share:

  • The difference Fair Trade makes:
    “The difference is not so much economic… Because when we established Fair Trade in 1988, we put forward as such that the free market doesn’t work and we put a rule that the coffee has to be bought under conditions of the minimum price of survival… so there is a minimum price. When the market goes below it, you don’t go with them. That creates a kind of security for people…”

    “… [the price is] still not a big deal but the [farmers] got out of the misery situation so that they could plant and as an organization we could do a lot… transportation, health care, education programs, housing programs… It all came possible because of being organized and having the security that your coffee could be sold under decent conditions.”

    Being organized has had a great, large effect on “the infrastructure of the co-op but also the political lobbying that people were doing. As soon as you have a body of 3000 farmers and you get on the street, the government starts listening.” He goes on to say that in his mind, political empowerment is one of the most important aspects of Fair Trade.

  • The entry of big corporations into the system: The interviewer asks Van der Hoff how he feels about the entry of Nestle, Walmart, and Starbucks into the Fair Trade system. Van der Hoff responds, “Miserable.”
    “Fair Trade is established by small farmers. But they [the certifiers] forgot the basic goal of providing new channels and a new possibility and new markets for small farmers letting in the big shots … they were interested in having more and more and more margins. Starbucks got in. Nestle got in. Sarah Lee got in. We are yelling from the fields that they shouldn’t be in…”
  • The need to introduce democracy to the market economy so as not to favor corporations:
    “Production means have to be in the hands of the people who work for it, and work in it… To buy is to vote. To buy is to vote for what kind of world that you want.”

  • If Fair Trade is NOT a poverty alleviation strategy, what is its purpose? Getting a more democratic system into the market can build upon a world where everyone can live [well]. To alleviate poverty, I never said it, because I hate it, because it’s a world upside down. First you produce poverty and then the north all of a sudden says we will alleviate what we have produced. No, that doesn’t work. No, you have to go to the system which is producing poverty and create a quite different system… It’s an endeavor to correct the charity approach of Fair Trade which we hate. I buy so that the poor bugger can have a better deal. It’s ridiculous and that we don’t want…”

We encourage you to listen to the full (10 minute) interview here. We share Franz Van der Hoff’s optimism that with well-informed, engaged, and committed consumers and activists, “…we can correct the mistakes they’ve made letting corporations into the Fair Trade system” and by watering down the original model which aims to transform our trade models, our ways of doing business, our relationships, and ultimately our food system.

We’d love to hear your views on these provocative topics!

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I’m on vacation this week! So it might be quiet on the blog, but I wanted to leave you all with this question: do you think the goals of the Buy Local movement and the Fair Trade movement are more compatible than they are contradictory?

Underneath the slogans and the sound bytes, it seems to me that the goals are about supporting small farmers, sustainable agriculture, local economies, community control, human connections, direct relationships, and a healthy planet.

If that’s so, let’s see those commonalities and work together to build a more transparent, just and democratic food system!

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