P6 Month News from Equal Exchange

The following is a blog post from P6 member and founder Equal Exchange. A version of this post appeared on Equal Exchange’s website.

Equal Exchange continues to stay true to our mission; and the original mission of Fair Trade: to support small farmer co-operatives by providing them market access and building co-operative supply chains; educating consumers about where their food comes from and who grows it; connecting farmers and consumers; and building an alternative, more just system of trade. Our most recent efforts to push the envelope on Authentic Fair Trade (AFT) is through:

• the introduction of our new category of Fair Foods;

• support for, and participation in, a new farmer-led, farmer-owned Fair Trade certification system (the SPP);

• and continued efforts to build an alternative, more just system of trade by building cooperation among co-ops across farmer co-ops, consumer co-ops, and Alternative Trade Organizations (ATOs) in Canada and Europe.

1. Fair Foods: Building new small farmer supply chains

As you all know, our most recent attempt to expand AFT is to bring small farmer co-ops working with dried fruits and nuts into food co-ops and natural food stores. In order to launch this category, we have been working with Fullwell Mill and TraidCraft, two ATOs in the UK. These ATOs have done the initial hard work of building dried fruit supply chains in Europe. By working directly with them, we are now not only supporting progressive, like-minded alternative traders (of which there are too few), but are also helping provide market access to tens of thousands of small farmers in Pakistan (apricots), Uganda (pineapples), Burkina Faso (mangoes and cashews), and Chile (raisins).

In addition, thanks to the tremendous support from our food co-operative partners, we have been able to build direct relationships with our cashew producers in India, El Salvador, and for the first time this year, Honduras. Through all this work, we are forming new relationships, learning more about these particular supply chains, and beginning to inform and educate consumers about these products and the farmers who grow them. Our dream is that one day (hopefully not 20 years), Fair Trade in the nuts and dried fruit category will be as common an idea, and the impacts as great, as what we have together all made possible for Fair Trade coffee and small coffee farmers.

2. Fair Trade vs. Authentic Fair Trade: Supporting the SPP certification system & educating consumers about the threat to small farmers in mainstream fair trade

The work of building supply chains is hard work. Sadly, it has been made even more difficult by the very certification systems that were created to support small farmers. In coffee, years of frustration over the certifiers’ emphasis on large corporations and privately owned plantations, and lack of farmer voice and vote in the system, has led to the farmers’ decision to create their own certification system, the Small Producer Symbol (SPP for its Spanish acronym). Last fall, Equal Exchange proudly launched our first 8 skus of SPP-certified bulk coffee. In addition to requiring the highest minimum prices, the SPP has attempted to build an entirely new certification system which truly reflects the Authentic Fair Trade mission and practices.

For years, Equal Exchange has tried to build an alternative small farmer tea supply chain and for just as much time, has critiqued Fair Trade plantation tea for being nothing more than a sham which sadly has served to deceive consumers, provide benefits to large tea companies, and compete with small farmers and ATOS that are attempting to create an alternative model. Now a number of different studies, articles, and books are being circulated by researchers who claim that not only is Fair Trade tea from plantations a marketing scam, but that it is actually “making things worse on plantations”: corruption, union busting, child trafficking, etc., as well as coverup by the certification systems. Equal Exchange will soon be launching an education and consumer awareness campaign about this topic.

3. Building an Alternative Trade System

Last year, Equal Exchange integrated with our sister co-operative in the UK. While always having been legally separate, EE UK has shared our name, our mission, and our approach since both organizations were founded in the mid 1980s. This “integration” will now allow us to support a like-minded co-operative selling small farmer products in Europe. We are all excited about joining with our “overseas cousins” and about the opportunities this presents for working on future projects together.

Similarly, we are now partnering with La Siembra, a worker-owned co-operative in Canada with whom we initially worked to launch our first chocolate bars and cocoa products in the U.S. La Siembra has seen some hard times and Equal Exchange will be working to support them and to help ensure the viability of another like-minded, mission-driven co-operative. We are very excited to see what potential exists through this newly rejuvenated partnership.

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