World Fair Trade day is May 9, so it seems fitting to profile a company whose pioneers laid the groundwork for much of the presence of fair trade products in the United States today, Equal Exchange.
Back in 1983, three managers at a New England food co-op started talking about how farmers in the U.S. and around the world should have their livelihoods protected in the face of the explosion of large-scale agribusiness. Supporting small farms and the natural food they provided felt essential and urgent, since big industrial farms were using more and more chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
After three years of discussion, the three men—Jonathan Rosenthal, Michael Rozyne, and Rink Dickinson—created Equal Exchange. They envisioned the company as a social change organization that would help farmers and their families gain more control over their economic futures, educate consumers about trade issues affecting farmers, and provide high-quality foods that would nourish body and soul, all within a democratically governed, employee-owned co-operative.
Since the specialty coffee market was exploding at that time, they decided on coffee as their first product to import. They chose coffee from Nicaragua not only because of its quality but also to support the political movement in Nicaragua at the time and challenge U.S. trade policies. They later added coffee from cooperatives in Latin America and Africa.
Now, twenty-five years later, Equal Exchange also offers tea, chocolate, cocoa, bananas, nuts, fruit, avocados, and olive oil, as well as other products. They continue to select farmer cooperatives that are operating with fair trade practices and also often in regions where farmers were historically oppressed or disadvantaged. One hundred percent of Equal Exchange products are fairly traded, benefiting more than 40 small farmer co-operatives in 25 countries around the world.
Equal Exchange now has a café in Boston and one in Seattle. They also have offices in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts; Portland, Oregon; and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Equal Exchange's mission is “to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate, through our success, the contribution of worker co-operatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world” (equalexchange.coop).
Amy Newsome has been known to partake of an Equal Exchange chocolate bar a time or two, or twenty.