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Cooperatives and Fair Trade

When I think of October, I think of the onset of Fall. I break out the sweaters and socks, enjoy many a mug of mulled cider, watch the trees go from green to fiery red and orange, and stand by as every café in town clears a space on its menu board for the infamous but undeniably popular pumpkin spice latte. But the beauty of October goes beyond the leaves and lattes. October also carries with it enormous social justice overtones, as it is both Cooperative Month and Fair Trade Month.

Cooperatives and Fair Trade go hand in hand. The founding purpose of fair trade was to provide market access to small-scale farmers who have been consistently marginalized by plantation-style agribusiness. Fair trade is a model based on decent prices, long-term partnerships, and democratic participation from all angles of the supply chain. It is a model in which producers have a stake in their business, and the ability to leverage their selling power using a collective, organized voice. This level of collective ownership and collaboration is best exemplified by cooperatives.

Farmers of the Global South began organizing into cooperatives decades ago as a means of survival. It was these cooperatives that alternative trade organizations (ATOs) in Europe began seeking out as suppliers and business partners in the 1970s. Since then, cooperatives have formed the core of the fair trade movement. They have been hailed time and again by entities throughout the world, from the United Nations to the Pope, as agents of poverty reduction, economic development, education, and workplace democracy. Without the inclusion of producer cooperatives, the food system is not changing, and the supply chain is not fair.

The contribution of cooperatives couldn’t be more evident – and their involvement more critical – than the role they’ve played in Fair Trade. Small farmer co-operatives in the Global South, and worker-owned and consumer co-operatives in the North, have been three invaluable links in a co-operative supply chain that has helped shape and build an empowering and activist model of trade that supports small farmers, democratic organizations, and engaged consumers.

–Phyllis Robinson, Equal Exchange Education & Campaign Mgr., “Cooperatives: The Heart and Soul of the Fair Trade Movement”

Small-scale producers of the Global South are the legs on which the developed world stands, yet they are the ones crippled by conventional trade, and squeezed out of the market by plantations. However, when producers organize into cooperatives and can speak with a collective voice, they are not just gaining power within the system. They are transforming the system. And when consumer co-ops of the North can meet them half-way by offering solidarity, a fair price, and a partnership, that is when you have genuine fair trade. Fair trade is not simply paying a fair price. It is changing the system, one cooperative supply chain at a time.

Crunch some leaves, pick some apples, and treat yourself to that pumpkin spice latte. Just know there is a lot going on in your cup.

By Rachel Dana – Equal Exchange


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

Online shopping

Fair Trade is so important today to combat the economic exploitation of people everywhere. With access to the internet, you do not need to have stores near you that sell Fair Trade products. So, beyond the basic products now available in many grocery stores, such as coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, and more, there are sites where you can expand your Fair Trade repertoire!

We know that where and how we spend our money does matter, so here are a few sites that help lead you to more Fair Trade goods online!

by Ditte Wolin

Canaan Fair Trade Olive Oil

It has been acknowledged that olive oil, in moderation, is a heart healthy alternative.  Knowledgeable consumers are also following their hearts by buying from socially responsible companies and organizations that produce fair trade products and olive oil in particular.

Our hearts were moved seven years ago when we met Dr. Nasser Abufara in Palestine at the Canaan Fair Trade headquarters in Burqin, just outside of Jenin in the West Bank.  Mary Ann Kerr and I both were on Interfaith Peace Builders delegations meeting with non-violent activists and organizations in Israel/Palestine and this was a much-anticipated stop. In 2004, Nasser founded Canaan Fair Trade, whose motto is “insisting on life”, and the Palestine Fair Trade Association with the goal of improving the lives of the farmers in the region of Palestine where he had been raised. While working on his PhD in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Nasser discovered fair trade and knew that such a concept would fit naturally with the traditional farming practices of his people. Thus he set out to bring this life energizing philosophy to the people of the West Bank.

Insisting on Life

The Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA) and Canaan Fair Trade, located in the northern West Bank, are models of social responsible organizations dedicated to supporting 1700 farmers and their families. These farming producers are organized in 43 olive oil producing cooperatives and 8 women-owned cooperatives which produce maftoul (couscous), freekah (fire roasted spring wheat), zataar (a Mediterranean spice mix), sun-dried tomato and green olive tapenades, and olive oil soap.

In addition to guaranteeing fair prices to farmers and producers that they can depend on, funds are distributed annually to the community in the form of ten four-year scholarships to farmers’ children to go to college or university, micro-loans to women to start their own businesses, and a yearly tree planting program.   Ongoing workshops are also provided on fair trade, organic and sustainable traditional farming practices and techniques, and over all production improvement. In June 2014, the Canaan Center for Research and Extension (CORE) was established for “research, education and extension activities promoting organic production and marketing fruits, vegetables and grains in Palestine and abroad.” The primary researchers are Palestinian farmers who are aided and guided by professional researchers, experts and scholars in the field.

Every year since our first visits to Canaan, new projects and products have emerged which illustrate the motto “insisting on life” and create the hope and reality of a sustainable life for the Palestinian farming community. The entire production of finished goods…. growing, maintaining standards, processing, bottling, labeling, packing, shipping, designing, marketing and much more….. provide employment for an entire community and beyond.  The Arabic word sumud meaning steadfastness comes to mind when thinking about the work of this community and these organizations.  It is indeed inspiring!  We have been so honored to be associated with Canaan Fair Trade as volunteer ambassadors and, as well, to be able to support the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) with proceeds from our sales.   It really does our hearts good!!


Ruth Tracy

Our First Coop Visit Together In El Salvador

By Ron Ober – Associate with Revy Fair Trade Products:

“Sure, I’d like to go,” was my wife’s reply when I asked if she would like to return to El Salvador with me. I had just come back from an initial trip to visit some coops, and I thought that she would like to experience this wonderful country. “But is it safe?” she continued.

“Absolutely,” I said. I assured her that we would be with both a driver and translator who are street smart and wouldn’t get us into any trouble. The fact that San Salvador had the second highest murder rate in the world behind Baghdad at the time should be of no concern.

My assurances may have helped a little, but when we boarded the flight and I received an upgrade due to my frequent flier miles, I gave her my seat. She definitely needed the three free margaritas that were offered in first class.

After an uneventful arrival, we went off to our first coop visit the next morning accompanied by our translator and friend, Chumba, whom I had met on my previous visit. Chumba picked up his English as a refugee from the war when he lived in Indiana. He still carries a piece of shrapnel in his stomach.

The stop was at Las Tinecas, which is located on the outskirts of San Salvador. Marilyn greeted us as we entered her home located along an abandoned railroad line. The home was spartan: a clean swept dirt floor, uprights crafted from tree branches, walls of that rippled fiberglass sheeting sometimes used in outbuildings in poorer U.S. communities. She pulled up two plastic patio chairs and laid out her coop’s handiwork on a small wooden table.

Marilyn had once been a member of the notorious 13th Street gang which originated in Los Angeles among war refugees. Since these refugees were considered “illegal,” jobs were scarce, but extortion easy. When arrested by U.S. authorities, they were imprisoned until the war ended and then returned to El Salvador, bringing their U.S. learned trade and violent methods with them.

Since Marilyn was no longer a member, life was improving for her as she created a wonderful line of jewelry. What we didn’t know was that the neighborhood had not changed. It was a real treat to see my wife’s face as three policemen with face masks hiding their identity and two national guards holding M-16’s knocked on the door. “It’s not safe here – there have been five murders in this neighborhood alone during the past week,” was Chumba’s translation.

So, off we went, backing the car down the abandoned railroad tracks. As I turned to my wife, I once again assured her that we were safe. She smiled. Nothing happened, nor has it in our numerous trips to El Salvador since our first encounter with Marilyn that August afternoon. But it was a great introduction to the country, its problems, and its promise.