Category: Equal Exchange

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.

The Future of Authentic Fair Trade Bananas: A Conference

Equal Exchange founded P6 in 2009 with a group of six committed consumer co-ops. The vision for P6 sprouted out of Equal Exchange’s deep commitments to creating an alternative, more equitable and just food system and years of leadership in building authentic fair trade supply chains. Equal Exchange has worked for over two decades to transform the coffee, tea, and chocolate industries, and more recently, Equal Exchange has expanded work into one of the most historically exploitative international food industries- bananas. Many P6 member stores are now proud to offer their customers Equal Exchange bananas. This past weekend, Equal Exchange created an opportunity for retail co-ops to meet face to face with leaders from the farmer co-ops that produce the bananas that arrive in our produce departments, and with other industry experts from across the world working to change the face of the banana industry. (more…)

P6 now based at Seward Coop

In 2010, Seward Co-op launched the Principle Six (P6) Cooperative Trade Movement to highlight products that meet two out of three criteria: local, cooperative/nonprofit, and small farmer/producer. Last summer, Seward took its support for the program a step further by offering to host the national P6 program, now based out of our co-op. We recently sat down with the P6 Central Coordinator, Aaron Reser, to hear an update.

What does it mean that Seward is part of a larger P6 Movement?

P6 was developed to embody Principle Six of the International Cooperative Principles: “Cooperation Among Cooperatives.” All P6 members are cooperatives. Nationally, we all use the P6 logo and share resources and best practices. By working together, we’re able to leverage our purchasing power to strengthen supply chains for small producers and cooperatives, both locally to our respective stores and internationally.

How did the national P6 organization end up at Seward?

Equal Exchange (a worker-owned cooperative bringing us familiar products such as fair-trade coffee and bananas) did amazing work leading the P6 initiative for the first several years, and they were really the visionaries behind P6. As the program evolved, it became apparent that P6 plays out mostly in the cooperative retail stores. There was a natural transition of leadership from Equal Exchange to the cooperative grocery stores. Equal Exchange is still a P6 member and a key player, but the P6 national “office” needed a new home, and Seward stepped up to house the program.

What drew you to P6?

I have worked in the local foods world for the past decade, including many years farming, working in Seward’s Produce department at the old store, and managing the Mill City Farmers Market. In that time I’ve noticed a tremendous surge in the popularity of local, organic, and fair-trade foods; but an unfortunate reality is that this doesn’t always translate to benefits for the source of that food: the farmers and producers. P6 really opens this conversation about ownership and who profits from our purchases.

As a consumer, the more directly we understand the source of our product, including all steps of its journey to us, the more control we can exercise over our purchasing decisions. It is important to me to know that when I buy a product, whether it’s local produce or coffee from afar, a fair percentage of my dollar goes back to the small producers. P6 covers these bases.

Take, for example, the breakfast I had this morning: Birchwood granola with an Equal Exchange banana and Rochdale Farms yogurt and a cup of fair-trade coffee. My dollar makes a difference for these producers, but when you think of my dollar multiplied by all the other customers who bought these products at Seward, the numbers become impressive. When you think of the jobs created and small producers supported, you see the larger impact of my breakfast choices. When you consider the many P6 co-ops involved in the P6 movement, we begin to see systemic change.

I encourage customers to look for the P6 logo on products and use the profiles of featured P6 producers in store and in the “Sprout!” as a way to connect to the sources of their food. P6 is about celebrating the farmers and producers who are creating the type of economy and world in which we believe.