Category Archives: Ohio Fair Trade BLOG

Fair Trade Pillar #4: Pay Promptly and Fairly

Most of us can usually come up with a few dollars for lunch or even stepping out. We take it for granted that loose change can always be found. Of course, there are exceptions even in this country. There are way too many people living on the margins in the United States.

In the global south, this is not the exception but quite often the rule. Money is a scarce commodity to be used for essential things like food and shelter. Buying a sandwich for lunch is a luxury. Stepping out is unheard of.

Revy learned very early with our fair trade business the importance of this. We always asked our artisans to keep a sample so that they could make the same product when we re-ordered. Fat chance. The sample was made, and then sold in a local market. We now have to supply photos with our orders and in some instances send a sample from our inventory.

Naturally, if an artisan can’t afford to keep a sample in inventory, they certainly can’t afford to buy raw material for an order. This is one reason that members of the Fair Trade Federation like ourselves send a 50% deposit with each order. It is a great income generator for PNC Bank with these extra wire transfers, but it’s the only way to do business according to the principles to which we subscribe.

In some instances, we supply the raw material ourselves. Earring wires must be stainless steel with an absolute minimum of nickel content and we supply them. In this case, the artisan has zero material costs since the earring itself is usually made from a seed or gourd. Regardless, we still advance 50% to them.

In other instances, the material cost is minimal. Our line of accessories from recycled inner-tubes uses scrap as the main component. Only a small amount is needed for linings, zippers, etc. Again, we advance 50%.

There is an added bonus to this since our payments for most products are mainly compensation for labor.  This has a much greater impact than when the artisan needs to acquire material. The balance is always paid upon shipment.

Compare this with the “free trade” model where the artisan must wait until the product is shipped to get paid. Sometimes, payment can be months or never at all. This is what we mean by “fair.”

Ron and Mary Ober
Revy Fair Trade

The Obers are the founders and owners of Revy Fair Trade, a Cleveland based fair trade wholesale business that imports from fair trade cooperatives in El Salvador. Revy means revitalization. Their emphasis is both on recycling and natural materials. The product line consists of: Jewelry created from clay, bamboo, coconut shells and a variety of seeds.
Handbags dyed with indigo, teak, tree moss and other organic materials.
Recycled materials including plastic bags, glass, used tires and leather scraps.

Check them out at

School Solidarity

These days most teenagers are consumed with grades, social status, the future, and preparing for college. We often don’t find time to stop and reflect – “smell the roses”- along the way. It is an inspiring moment when you can see the spark in your peers’ eyes when they find what they are passionate about. Whether it is a form of art or a social justice matter, once someone finds a calling they often gain a greater sense of self-worth. I have seen that spark ignite in my friends and classmates who have gotten involved with our Fair Trade club. And it’s not just because we sell coffee.

We often hear about “peer pressure” and how it relates to teenagers today. Usually, the term has a negative connotation, but that is not always the case. Once a month at Walsh Jesuit we have fair trade refreshments for sale, to raise awareness about opportunities to make a fair trade choice. In this way we “pressure” our peers to think about where their food and clothing comes from and who makes it.

Too often we see the product instead of what happened for the thing to be in front of us. According to, “In developing countries, an estimated 168 million children ages 5-14 are forced to work.” That is 168 million 1 st -9 th graders working in poor conditions for an unfair wage. We are all human and the color of our skin or where we are from should not determine our paycheck or working conditions. Some believe that buying these products is acceptable, justifying their actions by thinking that they are giving these workers some sort of income. Any time we exploit people’s poverty, we are feeding an unstable system. Fredrick Douglas describes this well when he said “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

Encourage your peers to make conscious decisions and go fair trade! Whether it be with the clothes they wear, the coffee they buy, or the food they purchase, the gratification that is felt knowing they have made a difference no matter how small is addictive.

Chloe Gunther is a student a Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Chloe, thanks for continuing to “peer pressure” folks to spread more love and justice! Meet Walsh Jesuit students at the Ohio Fair Trade Teach-In and EXPO.

Fair Trade Pillar #3: Building Producer Capacity

“Fair Trade is a means to develop producers’ independence. Members maintain long-term relationships based on solidarity, trust, and mutual respect, so that producers can improve their skills and their access to markets. Members help producers to build capacity through proactive communication, financial and technical assistance, market information, and dialogue. They seek to share lessons learned, to spread best practices, and to strengthen the connections between communities, including among producer groups.”
–Fair Trade Federation

It’s a common misconception that fair trade is simply the act of paying a decent price for a product; nothing more than a producer being able to walk away having made $2.20 for a pound of coffee instead of $1.00. This is an incomplete picture, and one that mis-characterizes the true nature of the authentic fair trade movement. A fair price is a significant part of the equation, but it is not everything, and it is not nearly enough. There is much more happening on the ground at the producer level, a key example of which is the building of producer capacity.

Fair trade was developed to give marginalized farmers and artisans market access, and therefore literally put more dollars in their pockets. However, this alternative manner of trade is meant to be mutually beneficial. Consumers pay a higher price; producers provide a quality product. But producers must have the know-how and means to do so. They must have the organizational ability, infrastructure, capital, and training tools necessary to keep building upon and improving their means of production, in order to ensure their long-term viability in the market. This is what we call capacity.

Capacity-building comes in many forms: pre-harvest finance, technical assistance, market research, loans for purchasing new equipment, and quality control training, to name a few. Each manner of capacity-building is made possible through long-term committed partnerships across national borders, and is meant to increase producer autonomy at the grassroots level – at the very beginning of the supply chain. We see examples of this with producer groups world-wide, such as this one from Equal Exchange cacao partner, Oro Verde Cooperative, of Peru:

“Oro Verde is currently working hard to identify high quality, productive and disease-resistant cacao trees to build up an elite tree program allowing them to provide their farmers with improved varieties for the future. This includes a reforestation project that involves planting two million trees to help the co-op achieve a carbon footprint of zero.”

Helping build capacity is not charity, but rather a way to foster independence and increase producer control over the very supply chains on which they rely for survival. It’s the sharing of tools and knowledge that will bring more economic activity to those who have been marginalized by conventional trade. It is insurance against future challenges, and is what enables producers to hold their own in a system rigged against them. Capacity-building is a fundamental pillar of the fair trade model, without which you don’t have genuine fair trade.


Rachel Dana,  is a worker-owner at Equal Exchange. After graduating from Earlham College in Indiana, Rachel spent some time in Mexico. She is now based in Cleveland, Ohio with another worker-owner and several part time staffers who run the Northeast Ohio DSD program. Cleveland is also home to one of the exclusive Equal Exchange Espresso Bars, a 100% fair trade coffee cafe, dedicated to the principles of fair trade.

check out 

Fair Trade Federation Annual Meeting – Why should you go?

Let’s face it – the fair trade movement in the United States is small. The good news is that it is growing – really growing. And, it’s powerful! How powerful? Come to the annual Fair Trade Federation (FTF) Conference to find out.

This annual gathering of retailers and wholesalers from across the United States and Canada is an opportunity to network and learn about the movement. This year, it will be in Burlington, Vermont from April 26th to the 28th.

Revy Fair Trade has been a member of the FTF for the past five years, and we’ve never missed a Conference. Besides the traditional greeting of old friends with “hellos and hugs,” the various seminars and workshops are awesome.

I remember many keynotes from individuals such as John Rosenthal, co-founder of Equal Exchange to Stacey Toews of Level Ground Trading. Although the majority of attendees sell crafts, these individuals represent the growing number of farm and food suppliers joining FTF.

If you live in Northeast Ohio, you are extremely fortunate to have the Ohio Fair Trade Network to meet other like-minded individuals. Other parts of the country from Los Angeles to Miami also have regional fair trade associations. Of course, none of them sponsor the best regional show in the country with the Ohio Fair Trade Teach-In & Expo.

It’s true that the Teach-In & Expo provides networking and education, but nothing can beat the lunches, dinners and bar talk at the Conference. If you want to truly feel a part of the national movement, plan to attend. You will come away better equipped to help the cause with both knowledge and motivation.

To learn more about the conference, go to or contact the writer at We’ll be glad to answer questions and fill you in on the details.

Ron Ober

Ron Ober is the founder and owner of Revy Fair Trade, a Cleveland based fair trade wholesale business that imports from fair trade cooperatives in El Salvador. Revy means revitalization. Their emphasis is both on recycling and natural materials. The product line consists of: Jewelry created from clay, bamboo, coconut shells and a variety of seeds.
Handbags dyed with indigo, teak, tree moss and other organic materials.
Recycled materials including plastic bags, glass, used tires and leather scraps.

Check them out at

Tis the Season to Bake Cookies

Happy holidays! For a solid month we celebrate a succession of holidays, including Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Day. Holidays remind us of our ideals, values, and identity. They offer us an opportunity to re-assess the direction of our lives, they invite us to pay attention to the things that really matter, and they remind us that life is a precious reality to be celebrated and appreciated.

Naturally, the holiday season has also become deeply connected to one of our society’s most sacred acts – consumption. In fact, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are home-grown holy days built around this act. The sacred quality of consumption has turned it into an unquestionable reality, however, it is not a given that our approach to consuming is consistent with our values and ideals.

Perhaps this holiday season could serve as an opportunity to cultivate a more mindful attitude toward consumption. Commerce is fundamentally about relationships. It involves a relationship with the workers in stores and those who run the companies. It also involves relationships that are less visible. It is especially easy to overlook the impact of our purchases on the poor and on the environment. Unknowingly, we can support systems that exploit and objectify the most vulnerable members of our world community. Unintentionally, we can endorse a system that funds and even promotes devastating violence in the poorest parts of our world. Accidentally, we can invest in realities that pollute and degrade the environment, threatening the capacity of current and future generations to benefit, as we have, from the earth.

Buying fair trade products, when possible, is a way to vote for a more just world with our wallets. A fair trade gift sends a message that you didn’t just think about your loved one, but also your brothers and sisters around the world. Baking cookies with fair trade sugar and chocolate chips and serving them with fair trade coffee or tea is a way of celebrating a special time of the year with those we love and a way of celebrating the values that we treasure – dignity, human rights, opportunity, respect for the environment, peace on earth, and good will toward humanity.

Dave LaGuardia

David is a theology teacher at Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. He is also a member of the Ohio Fair Trade Network, advises the Fair Trade Committee of the Walsh Jesuit High School Justice League  and coaches soccer at “the WJ”. Walsh is in the process of becoming a “fair trade high school” through, a US program designed to promote fair trade. WJ students want to dig deeper with their fair trade campaign and address systemic oppression at the institutional level. Go Walsh!

Fair trade, self-determination, and cloud forest conservation in Ecuador

On the northwestern slopes of the Andes in the South American country of Ecuador sits a collection of small farming communities in a region known as Intag. Intag is not a formally recognized political entity, but is a part of Cotacachi county that includes the watershed of the Intag River. The region is characterized by some of the most biodiverse cloud forests in the world. These are forests that hold tremendous amounts of water and allow it to run off into rivers slowly after the water has been thoroughly filtered and purified. The continued protection of these forests is essential to the livelihoods of the farmers in the region as their agricultural productivity depends on sources of clean water. Despite this fact, there have been repeated attempts by multinational corporations and the Ecuadorian government to establish huge open-pit copper mines in the region. Due to the extraordinary efforts of local community organizers, the region has resisted mining and has become a symbol in Ecuador and around the world for the power of local self-determination and for the importance of the fair trade movement.

Intag’s notoriety began in the early 1990’s when a World Bank funded mineral survey discovered large copper deposits in Intag. The copper attracted the attention of Bishimetals, a mining subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation. Soon Japanese geologists were in Intag to collect core samples of rock and determine the quality of the copper ore. There was one problem: the Japanese did not consult with the local farming communities as stipulated in the Ecuadorian constitution. Fearing widespread contamination of their water supplies and other environmental damage that might ensue from a large, open-pit mine, Inteños (as Intag residents refer to themselves) formed their own environmental organization, named DECOIN for Defensa Ecologica y Conservacion de Intag, and proceeded to educate themselves about mining. They visited Peru where large scale mining has been done for centuries. The environmental devastation and social disruption they witnessed in Peru’s mining regions greatly disturbed the Inteños. They returned to Intag determined not to let Bishimetals open a mine in Intag. A group of activists entered the Bishimetals mining camp, removed all of its equipment and then burned the camp to the ground. Bishimetals could have pursued legal action against the activists, but instead decided that the copper was not worth the damage that its international reputation might suffer. Soon, Bishimetals left Ecuador.

While the fight against Bishimetals went on, DECOIN knew that the economic problems of Intag had to be addressed to counter the attraction of jobs promised by mining companies. The organization spearheaded efforts to establish cooperatives based on coffee, handicrafts, and tourism. The coops have achieved slow but steady growth with the coffee coop counting 150 families among its members, the women’s handicraft coop including some 43 women, and the community tourism network including 14 community groups representing more than a dozen small communities. All of the cooperative efforts depend heavily on principles of fair trade even when fair trade certification has not been achieved (it has been achieved in the case of the coffee coop). Through direct, internet mediated contact between consumers and Intag producers, Inteños are receiving relatively high returns on their efforts whether it be in growing coffee or offering tours of the region. Coupled with income from traditional agricultural activities, income from the coops allows Inteños to remain in the region without resorting to environmentally destructive mining. Thus, Intag is moving towards a sustainable economy that addresses social welfare needs and protects the extraordinary biodiversity of the region.

Although Intag’s coops were succeeding, the copper remained under Intag’s soils and the government controlled the mining rights. In 2004, another mining company, Ascendant Copper from Canada, bought the Intag copper concession from the Ecuadorian government. Ascendant was a small company that had never developed a full blown open-pit mine. Their intention was to gain access to the main copper deposit, demonstrate its quality, and then sell the concession to a larger mining company. However, the main deposit was located in a community forest reserve near the village of Junin, and Junin residents refused to allow Ascendant personnel into the reserve. Finally, Ascendant resorted to hiring armed paramilitaries who forced their way into the reserve after an armed confrontation with locals that involved shots being fired at Junin residents. Community activists from around Intag entered the forest reserve and surrounded the paramilitaries’ camp. Without firing a shot, they took control of the camp and arrested the paramilitaries. Faced with the fact of the armed intrusion by paramilitaries, the government finally condemned the action of Ascendant and revoked its mining concession.

The mining threat did not end with Ascendant’s ouster. The election of Rafael Correa in 2006 brought high hopes for a more environmentally friendly administration, particularly after Mr. Correa sponsored a constitutional assembly that crafted a new and very pro-environment constitution. However, as Ecuador’s economy has struggled, especially in light of recent drops in the price of oil (Ecuador is an oil exporter), Correa has again pushed the development of mining. In conjunction with the Chilean state-owned mining company, CODELCO, renewed exploration for copper is being carried out in Intag and plans for another open-pit mine are underway. Much will depend on international copper prices, which have dropped in recent months, and on the ability of local organizers to maintain community opposition to mining attempts.

Intag is not the only part of Ecuador to foster sustainable development through the action of locally controlled cooperatives. Another is Salinas de Guaranda where a Salesian priest began a dairy cooperative over thirty years ago that is still thriving and producing the best cheese in Ecuador. The cheese is now sold almost everywhere in Ecuador. Other cottage industries, e.g. a chocolate factory and a tourism coop, have been established that have expanded employment opportunities and reduced emigration to urban areas. Other communities are looking to Intag and Salinas as models and are beginning to replicate what they have done, e.g. the community of Principal in southern Ecuador and various weaving and textile cooperatives in and around Otavalo in the north. The potential for expanding the mix of small farms and coop-based businesses is huge, especially if the government were more supportive. Unfortunately, the administration of Rafael Correa remains committed to extractivist industires and has become increasingly autocratic in suppressing popular protest. Journalists have been harassed with lawsuits and at least one local organizer in Intag has gone to jail due to his opposition to government policy.

In light of the power invested in government officials and multinational corporations, it is clear that our commitment to fair trade and support for local community organizers are critical to sustainable development in countries like Ecuador. Fair trade enables rural communities to exist without further destruction of ecosystems, particularly forests, that are essential to the maintenance of ecosystems services such as water purification and the absorption of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas. As Pope Francis visits the U.S. to urge action against climate change, people must come to understand that meaningful action will not occur without fair trade and without international condemnation of governments and corporations who suppress protest and resort to violence to further environmentally destructive practices such as mining. If you are interested in more details concerning what is happening in Intag and the rest of Ecuador, go to

Submitted by Dr. Michael Melampy, Professor: Baldwin Wallace University

Spring Cleaning

Open windows, fresh air and sunshine bring on a desire to get rid of the winter’s dust. Spring cleaning can be a ritual that prepares houses for the newness of summer. Spring and open windows brings in a freshness. In keeping with that freshness, most people ae now leaving behind the harsh chemicals of most cleaning products. Some are returning to old-fashioned solutions such as vinegar and water. But there are more choices in eco-friendly cleaners, some of which are fair traded. We invite you to clean with a conscience: both in terms of the environment and the producers of the products.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Bronner’s socially and environmentally responsible products. You will find Sal Suds Liquid cleaner, a concentrated hard surface, all-purpose cleaner which is completely biodegradable, and Castile Liquid Soap. Also, a list of body products are available. The company sees itself as an activist promoting fair trade, promoting organic integrity and protecting animal rights.
  2. Cleaning Products that Work by Sodasan. These are organic products made from fruits, vegetables and plants. Products include laundry, dishes, household cleaning and hand soaps.
  3. Try some old-fashioned cleaning tips:
    1. Baking soda to remove odors.
    2. Vinegar and water for windows and mirrors.
    3. Baking soda and vinegar mix to clean clogged drains.
    4. Douse fresh stains in clothing with salt and then wash.
    5. Tomato ketchup for brass.

As long as we are talking about freshness and a special clean, let us remind you of the many fair traded body products. Shampoos and wonderfully scented soaps are available in many of our fair trade shops in the area: Fair Trade on Main in Hudson, Ten-Thousand Villages and Revive in Cleveland Heights, and even Whole Foods.

Locally, you can find Dr. Bronner’s personal care products at Heinen’s, GNC, Caito’s in Solon, Healthy Living in Willoughby, Mustard Seed Markets, Nature’s Bin West in Cleveland, and Target.

Submitted by Karen Leith

Our Global Mothers

Mother’s Day is a special time for many of us. For me, it’s a time to remember my “best friend” and place a daffodil on her grave. Daffodils weren’t Mom’s favorite flower, but I have plenty of them in my front yard to pick, and I don’t think that she would mind.

Mom passed away seven years ago when I was doing my “free market, capitalistic thing.” She never had an opportunity to see me venture into the word of fair trade and hear stories of our visits to our artisan partners in El Salvador.

My wife and I began visiting El Salvador six years ago, and one of the immediate impressions was the devotion and dedication of the women to their families – both sons and daughters. By working to earn extra income making crafts at a fair wage, they allow their children to stay in school longer without the need to enter the “workforce.”

Fair Trade gives them this opportunity.  These women want a better life for their children, and in a small way, we are helping them. Our business, Revy Fair Trade, is one of hundreds of fair trade wholesalers who are working to break the cycle of poverty which has plagued the Global South for years.

Mother’s Day may be an American holiday, but it is also a time to think of these women and thank them. Their work, and dedication are something that we can all look up to. Happy Mother’s Day to everyone – here and in the Global South.


By:  Ron Ober – Revy Fair Trade Products

Kiss Exploitation Goodbye!

Over 190 million roses will be bought for Valentine’s Day this year along with chocolate and jewelry.  I had never really given much thought about where the flowers we buy at the store are grown.  It turns out that about 80% of cut flowers sold in the United States come from overseas.  (  They are grown mostly in Central American, Northern South America, and Africa where the climates are conducive to year round growing.  Non fair trade flowers are laden with pesticides and other chemicals to keep them looking fresh for the stores.  At any time, over 120 chemicals are used in the flower growing industry, some of which are carcinogenic.

Flower producers employ mostly women often paying them only $1 per day.  In addition to chemical exposure, they are exposed to other dangerous working conditions, long working hours, inability to organize for fair wages, and in some cases sexual harassment.   While many are happy to have a job, they are still living on the margins of society.

It is common practice to think about fair trade in the context of coffee and chocolate as well as jewelry.  These items are getting easier to find, especially here in NE Ohio. We also need to consider flowers when we think of fair trade products.

Certified fair trade flower producers must provide safe working conditions, limit the types of chemicals they use, pay a living wage, and allow for workers to unionize for their own protection and well-being.    The advantage to purchasing fair trade flowers is a guarantee that a woman is being paid a living wage, receiving access to health care, there is no child labor and the environment is not being affected.  You can also guarantee that you will not have to worry about hazardous chemicals when you give them to your sweetheart.  Plus, you get higher quality flowers.  Worth every penny.

Our website has links to two online sites that sell certified fair trade flowers to individuals.    Fair Trade America and Fair Trade USA provide a list of businesses that sell flowers wholesale.  Print out the lists and share it with your local florist.  Let them know that when they buy and sell fair trade flowers they are making a difference in the lives of women.  And that you will be more inclined to buy flowers from them rather than the supermarket next time.

Check out these sites to learn more about certified fair trade flowers:

Warm Up Your Winter with Fair Trade

The holiday season invites us to be our best self.  It celebrates the virtues of generosity, peace and charity.  The New Year offers us an opportunity to re-assess our lives, identifying ways that we can better live our ideals.  One way we manifest our ideals and values is through how we shop.

Every purchase that we make promotes a value.  All too often, our consumption reflects indifference to the way those who produce our goods are treated.  In light of the deplorable wages, inhumane working conditions, human rights violations and lack of opportunity for personal advancement that exists at the bottom of our supply chain, we must ask ourselves whether we honestly subscribe to the universal challenge to “treat others the way we would want to be treated.”  Can any of us honestly say we would be comfortable with the thought of ourselves, or someone we care about, working 7 days a week and 12 to 16 hours a day, just to survive?

In the upcoming months we, at the “Ohio fair trade network,” would like to offer practical suggestions relating to how consumers can use their purchasing voice to create a demand for goods produced in a way that respects workers.  Helen Keller challenges each of us to recognize “I cannot do everything; but still I can do something.”  Buying fair trade is something we can do to show we care about our marginalized brothers and sisters.  We also invite all of you to share these ideas with your friends and families, remembering another wise saying, “when we dream alone it is only a dream; when we dream together it is the beginning of a new reality.”

 DSC_0001January Challenge:

The holidays are about togetherness and community.  Who doesn’t love sitting in a coffee shop or in front of a fireplace sharing her or his favorite hot beverage with a group of loved ones?  This simple celebration warms our spirit during this cold season reminding us that we are not alone, that we are valued and that we are part of a community.  The truth is we are part of a larger “earth community.”  A simple choice to buy fair trade coffee, tea or hot chocolate can celebrate the fact that our connectedness transcends our inner circle of friends and testify to a global solidarity.

Buying fair trade beverages is an easy and delicious way to show that you care about our brothers and sisters in the developing world and that you care how workers are treated.  We invite you, this January, to begin (or continue) a habit by making your next coffee, tea or hot chocolate purchase fair trade.

It’s also worth noting that fair trade coffees and teas are priced competitively with other high quality brands.  Check the ‘Ohio Fair Trade Network’s’ facebook page this month for weekly links detailing the condition of the workers that produce our coffees, teas, etc. as well as information on fair trade options.  If you would like to go further with your commitment to fair trade during the winter you might also look into fair trade coats and sweaters as well as fair trade sugar for your drink.

Tune in next month to explore ways that we can kiss exploitation goodbye during the Valentine’s season by purchasing fair trade flowers, chocolates, and/or jewelry for someone you care about.

David Laguardia, Walsh Jesuit High School Teacher, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio