Category Archives: Ohio Fair Trade BLOG

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


Uganda Artisans Make Ohio Fair Trade Expo Special

Attendees at the Ohio Fair Trade Expo this year are going to be in for a treat.  The first 150 registrants at the Expo and each of the Girl Scouts participating in the Fair Trade Education program will receive a handmade bag produced by One Mango Tree artisans in Uganda.

To register for the Ohio Fair Trade Expo click here!

To learn more and register for the Girl Scout fair trade education program click here!

To learn more about One Mango Tree visit:

Buy Fair Trade – Spread the Word!

Are you committed to supporting a sustainable economy by buying fair trade products?
Do you purchase a Fair Trade Certified cup of coffee or tea each day?
Do you wish more people knew about fair trade?

The fair trade movement and growth of the fair trade market is growing each and every day in the state of Ohio, but it could grow more AND you could be part of it.  The Ohio Fair Trade Network has developed a simple way for you to share the news of your fair trade purchase with people across Ohio, the U.S., and the world!

Each time you purchase a fair trade product take just ten seconds and fill out a super-easy online form at our website found at:

Once you fill out this form we will TWEET (that means share on Twitter) the news of your fair trade purchase with more than 1,000 people following Ohio Fair Trade Network on Twitter.  It will give people throughout Ohio, our country, and our global community the opportunity to learn how important fair trade is to Ohioans!

So, the next time you make a fair trade purchase, make sure to complete the form at: – it will only take 10 seconds but will have ripple effects for farmers and artisans for years to come!