October is Co-op Month! At Equal Exchange, we’re proud to be a worker-owned co-operative and to trade with democratic farmer co-ops worldwide. Co-operative values are key to who we are, and they manifest in our daily and long-term work.
One of the first questions investors ask of a company is, “What’s your Exit Strategy?” In other words, when are you going to go public or sell your company to a larger company so I can cash out with 10 times my original investment?
In 2010, Equal Exchange and TCHO Chocolate embarked on a journey to partner in new and innovative ways with cacao co-operatives in Peru, Ecuador and Dominican Republic. With support from the USAID Co-operative Development Program, we set out to develop a project focused on three key factors for cooperative success: quality, productivity, and capitalization.
Equal Exchange launched the Action Forum a year ago as a way to engage around these issues on a deeper level. If we want to drive change in the food system, we have to try to understand its history and complexities, and grapple with things like democracy, food justice, and sustainability - together. The Action Forum community is invited to monthly interactive webinars hosted by Equal Exchange, and this month we're excited to offer a two-part series unpacking who owns what in the food system today.
A year ago we hosted Tomy Mathew at our first Action Forum event at Kickstand Cafe in Arlington, Mass. Tomy works with Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK), a small farmer organization in Kerala, India, that supplies cashews to Equal Exchange. FTAK was formed during the agrarian crisis that set producers in a cycle of poverty and indebtedness; farmers were not getting paid the cost of production for their crop.
Two weeks ago, workers from Equal Exchange and La Siembra (a sister worker co-op committed to small farmers, based in Canada) had the opportunity to visit our mutual sugar partner, Manduvira co-operative in Paraguay, and share a day and a half at the homes and fields of several of its 986 farmer members.
If you've been following this blog over the last year, you've seen various critiques of the Fair Trade movement - both its history and the current state of the so-called movement that requires consumers to simply look for a certification seal. To help articulate an authentic version of Fair Trade that is shared by many Equal Exchange colleagues, allies, and partners, we created a comic book that presents the history of Fair Trade with illustrated condensed stories, and heroes and villains. Our hope is that readers will dig deeper, ask questions, and think about the future of small farmers, co-ops, and alternative trade organizations.
Fair trade has gone further in the U.K. than perhaps any other country. And now fair trade—as viewed from the perspective of labeled product—is falling off the cliff. Sainsbury, one of the largest supermarkets in the U.K., is slowly abandoning the seal in favor of in-house certification. Tesco, another major supermarket, is abandoning the seal but on a faster timeline. Likewise, Mondelez, one of the largest chocolate companies, is replacing the already weakened, corporate-dominated seal with its own fully controlled, in-house seal.
In August, I traveled to Michoacán to visit PRAGOR, the avocado co-operative that we partner with in Mexico. I visited both the avocado growers and the management of the co-op that buys the avocados from individual growers and gets them from the farms to the pack house into Equal Exchange branded boxes, and then sends them on the road to us here in the U.S. every week.