October is Fair Trade Month at Willy Street Co-op. This is a great time to actively remember the workers who help bring resources to our tables everyday. These are the people in countries like Peru and Ghana—people we may never meet in our lifetimes—who work hard to help us enjoy a cup of coffee or a piece of chocolate. Fair Trade seeks balance in an industry that has often exploited farmers and placed profits before people, whether it’s their working conditions, pay, sustainable agricultural practices or helping small, independent farmers grow their businesses. When you stroll the aisles of Willy Street Co-op, you’ll notice several companies that practice Fair Trade. Here’s a small handful of the companies that have made Fair Trade part of our collective lexicon.
What Exactly is Fair Trade?
According to the World Fair Trade Organization, the practice of Fair Trade began in the late 1940s when a non-profit called Self Help Crafts started buying needlework from Puerto Rico. A lot has happened since then. Several companies around the globe offering Fair Trade products have stepped into the picture, so it’s important to note that Fair Trade is many organizations utilizing the Fair Trade principles of helping workers in poor countries. Dean Kallas, Grocery Category Manager at Willy Street Co-op, has this insight: “I feel like the whole idea behind Fair Trade is to empower small farmers and their cooperatives, so they have more of a say in their future and the future of their children. It is an avenue to help people progress in a democratic fashion and take control of their lives economically. In what way would someone working on a plantation be empowered by their boss receiving more money for their products?” The emphasis of Fair Trade then, as Dean expresses, is equality for workers of small-scale operations.
You may have witnessed Just Coffee Cooperative workers delivering their organic wares around Madison utilizing cargo bikes. You may have also noticed the graphic on each bag of Just Coffee that depicts the conventional coffee product chain and the Just Coffee product chain. While the conventional chain involves eight steps including estates, brokers and wholesalers, Just Coffee’s is all of four steps: the farmer cooperative, the importing cooperative, Just Coffee, and lastly, Willy Street Co-op.
Just Coffee is registered with the Small Producer Symbol, or SPP (Símbolo de Pequeños Productores) as it’s known, a Fair Trade certification that guarantees their products originate from small-scale farmers. Just Coffee “supports the original vision of fair trade that aims to help small-scale producers stay on their land and off of the plantations.” Again we see the mantra of Fair Trade: small-scale.
Equal Exchange, aside from its fitting name, is a worker-owned, democratically operated co-op that provides an inspiring example of the broadness of Fair Trade products and the way companies work together to help workers. Willy Street Co-op sells an assortment of Equal Exchange items, including olive oil, chocolate, coffee, candy bars and Geobars, among others. In case you’re wondering what Geobars are, they’re sweet cereal bars and you’ll discover them in the granola bar sections of both stores. Choose from Apricot, Mixed Berries or Chocolate Raisin. To bring the Geobars to market, Equal Exchange works together with a United Kingdom alternative trade company called Traidcraft. The mission of Traidcraft is, “to fight poverty through trade, practicing and promoting approaches to trade that help poor people in developing countries transform their lives.” So when you purchase a box of six Geobars, you’re directly helping South African grape farmers, Pakistani apricot collectors, Chilean beekeepers, and rice farmers from India and Thailand. Each box of Geobars also has a diagram on the back that shows you where each of the ingredients originated. Wouldn’t it be great if other companies practiced this?
Equal Exchange is also registered with the Small Producer Symbol. Phyllis Robinson, the Education and Campaigns Manager for Equal Exchange, recently said this about the SPP program: “This bold step forward reflects the fact that today the very folks for whom the Fair Trade movement was built are taking a leadership role in shaping their own destiny. The potential impact this new system will have on small farmers, their co-operative organizations, and the entire Fair Trade movement could be quite profound indeed.”
Lotus Foods: An International Effort
Our next company, Lotus Foods out of San Francisco, works with “Fair For Life,” an organization located in Switzerland known for its stringent quality control measures. Remember, Fair Trade is an international endeavor. Lotus’ Heirloom Volcano Rice, for example, is grown by the Simpatik Farmer Cooperative in Tasikmalaya, Indonesia, and is the first rice in the United States to be labeled “Fair for Life.” It’s also organically grown. Lotus utilizes the “System of Rice Intensification” which uses less water and seeds without the use of chemicals. This rice is available in both bulk sections of Willy Street Co-op.
For more than 30 years, Heavenly Organics has been assisting farmers in India by practicing Fair Trade and sustainable farming, as expressed in their mission: “to produce and market 100% organic products with sustainable methods that preserves and nourishes the biodiversity of our planet, as well as the traditional people and cultures where our products are harvested and produced.” In short: the epitome of Fair Trade. If you’re wondering why you would purchase honey from India, here’s a reason. The land where Heavenly Organics honey is harvested is free of exposure to GMO’s and toxins. Also, more than 500 families in the Kashmir region of India are supported through Heavenly Organics’ efforts. Willy Street Co-op proudly sells Heavenly Organics’ honey, sugar and trick-or-treat-ready chocolate and honey patties. The workers at Heavenly Organics—as with the companies listed above and the myriad that weren’t mentiond—are the people who now have a voice with Fair Trade. These are the people who may never set foot in a Willy Street Co-op. They are the reason Fair Trade exists. This October, let’s remember them.