To Be Announced. Check back later this summer to learn our theme and discover who will be speaking.
The Ohio Fair Trade Teach-In & Expo returns to John Carroll. This will be a day of education and shopping. We will feature three speakers presenting different ways the fair trade movement is changing the banana industry. The exposition hall will have over 40 fair trade vendors and informational tables. Without a doubt, it is the finest regional fair trade event in the country. This is a must attend event for anyone in Ohio interested in justice for the Global South.
Nicole Vitello, President of Oke USA Fruit Company, a 100% fair trade fruit importer. She is proud to be part of that model in fresh produce by promoting the connection between small farmers in Latin America and consumers in the United States;
Katherine Nagasawa is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. She will be showing clips of her web documentary, Beyond The Seal, about fair trade bananas and the people behind the movement to change the banana industry;
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 revydirect.com
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 dosomething.org, “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 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 EqualExchange.coop
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 http://www.fairtradefederation.org/ftfconference/ or contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be glad to answer questions and fill you in on the details.
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 revydirect.com
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.
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 fairtradecampaigns.org, 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!
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 www.decoin.org.
Submitted by Dr. Michael Melampy, Professor: Baldwin Wallace University
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