Not Business As Usual | Equal Exchange

Not Business As Usual

Equal Exchange has created Big Change for over 20 years. Here are some of the ways we've helped change "business as usual."

Alternative/Fair Trade:


  • helped introduce Fair Trade coffee (the first type of Fair Trade food or beverage in the U.S.) to U.S. grocery stores in the mid-1980s.
  • in the mid-'90s, we were, we believe, the first U.S. coffee importer to provide comprehensive Fair Trade pre-shipment financing for coffee grower partners.
  • were the first U.S. company to use Fair Trade Certified™ sugar as an ingredient (2002).
  • were the first U.S. company to offer Fair Trade Certified™ sugar as a stand-alone product in the U.S. (2004).
  • have fought against tokenism in the Fair Trade marketplace– (article).
  • Helped create a domestic model for Fair Trade that would benefit U.S. family farmers and farm workers; created three domestic Fair Trade supply chains; brought three domestic Fair Trade products to the market; and have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Red Tomato organization and the Local Fair Trade Network.
  • own 90% of Oké USA, the only 100% Fair Trade fruit company in the country.
  • supported raising the Fair Trade price for coffee farmers in 2007.
  • are bringing Fair Trade to schools, through fundraising and the Win Win Solutions curriculum for grades 4 through 9.
  • are fighting the extension of Fair Trade certification to large scale plantations. We believe that extension dilutes the original Fair Trade ideals, and undermines small-scale farmer co-ops. Our efforts began with the fight at the 2003 Specialty Coffee Association of America conference and have continued with our more recent work to promote small farmers within the Fair Trade tea market and to oppose the new standards proposed by Fair Trade USA.

Innovative Business Model:


  • are 100% employee-owned and employee-governed on a democratic one-person/one-share/one-vote basis.
  • follow open book management, meaning all of the company's financial information is shared regularly with all employees. We believe this kind of internal transparency is a necessary ingredient in a democratic, employee-owned firm like ours.
  • have a "no exit strategy" policy, meaning we have bound ourselves by rules to discourage the company from ever being sold. Specifically, if the company were to be sold, any net proceeds would go not to the worker-owners, but would have to be donated to another Fair Trade organization.
  • have a unique model for distributing the co-operative's net income where up to 10%% of our net profits is donated to non-profit organizations, and small farmer co-ops. Of the remainder at least 60% of the income is re-invested in the co-op, and up to 40% is divided equally amongst the employee-owners.
  • offer an unique Certificate of Deposit with Eastern Bank that represents many "firsts": first branded CD; first company-specific CD (meaning the funds are dedicated to the use of one company); a novel way for a social enterprise to raise capital and maintain independence; a novel socially responsible financial product that connects retail depositors with small-farmers.
  • work with other National Cooperative Business Association and the Co-op Fund of New England to promote new models for capitalizing co-operatives.
  • are a founding investor in, and ongoing supporter of, the Co-op Capital Fund, an innovative fund for capitalizing co-operatives on terms that ensure their continued independence.
  • are the world's first ever worker-owned co-op to span 3,000 miles (with offices and co-op members in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon and elsewhere).
  • are the world's largest worker-owned coffee roaster.
  • created the Interfaith Program, a progressive, for-profit business partnership with 12 faith-based organizations that together represent almost half of all U.S. places of worship.

Political Action:


  • fought to protect organic certification for small farmer co-ops. This resulted in a four-fold victory for the environment, small farmers, co-operatives, and organic consumers.
  • are fighting forced child labor in the cocoa trade. Specifically we have spoken out repeatedly on this issue, co-drafted the Commitment to Ethical Cocoa Sourcing, and more.
  • endorsed raising the minimum wage in Massachusetts.
  • endorsed Massachusetts legislation to make the provision of sick leave for employees obligatory.
  • publicly supported our cocoa-grower partners, CONACADO, against the Dominican Republic's unfair taxation of small-scale cocoa growers.
  • publicly endorsed progressive reforms to the federal Farm Bill.
  • promoted the documentary "The Price of Sugar", about the exploitation of plantation workers in the Dominican Republic.
  • promoted the documentary "Black Gold" about the need for Fair Trade in the coffee industry.