All posts by dianezbasnik

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


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

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

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


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.