In early November 2011, Equal Exchange traveled to the West Bank to meet with the members of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC) from whom we are now buying organic, fairly traded olive oil.
I often think about how we are changing the world through trade - with relationships and the belief that everyone has rights, no matter where they are from. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the complex issues spanning the globe, from myriad protests to governmental conflicts to human right abuses. Look at a place like the Democratic Republic of Congo - a war-torn country in Central Africa with a devastated economy and massive sexual violence against women and girls of all ages. Did you know that the D.R. Congo has been called one of the worst places on earth to be a woman?
Over the last few years I have written about shifting gender roles in the coffee industry; how women are moving into different positions of power and influence within their own communities and co-operatives. The change is slow, but I believe this systemic change begins with individual women and the opportunities that are available to them.
For many years, the specialty coffee industry has drawn parallels to the wine industry. The most widely used comparison is in the way we describe the flavors we taste. Consumers are familiar with wine labels that boast specialty flavors like mango or plum, bright acidity, and a host of other flavors.
Each May we celebrate World Fair Trade Day. It feels important to take this opportunity to revisit the roots of Fair Trade, and reconsider what we aim to accomplish. Most people understand the critical importance of higher prices, advance credit and direct relationships; they allow farmers to stay on their land, send their children to school, and diversify their incomes. Yet, there's another equally - some would say even more important - goal of Fair Trade, one that seems to be slowly disappearing as new iterations of "ethical trade" and "direct trade" appear in the market: empowering communities and social movements. It is for this reason Equal Exchange chooses to work with small-farmer co-operatives.
San Fernando Co-op is very young but has a lot of members - around 400. I was one of the first members in 2001. I've always been loyal to my co-op. It has grown little by little. What I like most is the organization. Before we were selling organic, but now the price is raised because it is Fair Trade. [People in the U.S.] should appreciate our coffee and that's important for us because we feel proud.
During the five days I stayed in San Fernando, a coffee-farming community remotely located 6,000 feet up in the Andes Mountains of Peru, I only started to understand the complexities of rural life for the farmers and their families. Because of my academic background in gender studies, I was particularly interested in the breakdown of gender roles in San Fernando.
Eulalia Palomino made a choice early in her life not to follow in her mother's footsteps. "I had a father who drank a lot and mistreated my mother. I said I wasn't going to be like her," Palomino said. "So, I decided to work for women in rural areas - women who are very put down."