How does Equal Exchange practice Fair Trade?

Equal Exchange was created in 1986 expressly to bring the Fair Trade model to U.S. grocery stores and to demonstrate the viability of Fair Trade to others in our industry. More importantly our commitment to Fair Trade values has always gone beyond the products themselves and is woven into our structure as a worker co-operative and into everything we do.

During the last 25 years we have succeeded in working with thousands of small farmer communities and thousands of consumers to create a system of doing business that is in stark contrast to how business is increasingly being done. These small farmers have invested in their communities, developed award-winning quality, and preserved their environments. They have shown others in their area that such an approach is possible. At the same time, our customers have repeatedly chosen to spend their money on products that support this alternative system. They have advocated for farmers, and have led discussions and presentations to their neighbors, congregations, and on campuses. They have demanded that stores and cafes carry these products. Together we have built a movement.

With our past fueling us, we believe there is still a strong need to connect farmers and consumers and to continue to strengthen this way of trading. We work directly with farming communities (with small farmer cooperatives specifically) with a focus on long-term partnerships and programs; we visit with farmers, offer trainings, and listen to their concerns and ideas; we educate consumers about the people and issues behind their food choices; we continually try to improve our own work and build upon the successes of the past to build a better future.

More specifically, our approach to Fair Trade is characterized by completeness; co-operatives; and relationships.

Completeness

  • 100% of our products are fairly traded and, where possible, certified
  • 100% of the ingredients in composite products, such as chocolate, that can be fairly traded, are fairly traded, not just the lead ingredient
  • We strive to fulfill 100% of the requests we receive from farmer co-operatives for affordable pre-harvest credit, and almost every year we achieve this
  • We continually help to bring Fair Trade to new categories and have repeatedly been the first in the U.S. - or one of the first - to market such Fair Trade products as sugar, cocoa, bananas, almonds, tea from small farmers, and U.S.-grown Fair Trade crops

Co-operatives

  • In the 1980's Fair Trade began with small farmer co-ops and we still believe they represent the greatest potential for Fair Trade to effect significant, lasting change and to democratize the economies of rural communities. Accordingly 99% of our products are sourced from small farmer co-ops.
  • When possible we work to shift value-added processing to the farmer co-ops themselves or have this work done by other co-operatively-owned businesses.
  • Equal Exchange is itself a democratically organized, worker-owned co-operative

Relationships

  • Unlike most companies selling Fair Trade coffee, who buy coffee importers, we are our own importer and have direct purchasing relationships with 26 coffee farmer co-ops around the world.
  • Every year we lead week-long delegations of customers, supporters and employees to visit with our farmer partners in Latin America. Every full-time Equal Exchange employee goes on such a trip during their first 3 years.
  • We are an outspoken advocate on behalf of our farmer partners, Fair Trade, organic farming and small farmers in general.
  • Our Quality Control manager, Beth Ann Caspersen, visits over a dozen farmer co-ops every year and leads training seminars both in the farmers' countries and at our Massachusetts headquarters for visiting farmer co-op technicians.
  • To complete the Fair Trade journey from farm to table every year we work with thousands of congregations, schools and advocacy organizations on Fair Trade promotion and education.