In the context of agricultural commodities "fair trade" is a voluntary program practiced by some importers and food companies to create an alternative market for traditionally disadvantaged producers in developing countries, usually small-scale farmers. The components include:
- Direct purchasing from those who are under-served by the conventional markets, specifically small farmers and their cooperatives
- Agreed upon commodity floor prices that provide for a dignified livelihood
- Promise by importers to make affordable credit available to the farmer cooperatives
- World-wide network of non-profit certifying organizations
- Fee paid by the importers and wholesalers to cover the cost of certification
- Seal that assures consumers that a product was fairly traded
Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) in Bonn, Germany handles the certification of fair trade commodity production and exports. They may be contacted at:
Phone: 011-49-228-949230 (dialing from the US)
FLO has member organizations in each importing country that handle the certification of fair trade imports and use of the fair trade seal on packaging. In the United States that group is TransFair USA, based in Oakland, California, www.transfairusa.org.
Is Equal Exchange's Fair Trade program different from other companies?
Yes. At Equal Exchange 100% of our products are fairly traded. Other firms' Fair Trade food and beverage sales usually constitute only a small percentage of the total, and often consist of no more than a single product. In such cases Fair Trade products are an "add-on" to a much larger conventional food or beverage operation.
We helped launch the Fair Trade coffee market in the United States back in 1991, and remained the only firm using this model until 1998.
Despite the subsequent entry of 350+ competitors into the Fair Trade coffee market, including billion dollar firms, Equal Exchange remains a leader in Fair Trade sales volume. In 2004, we imported over 3.69 million pounds of green coffee.
Equal Exchange has had a pre-harvest financing program for our co-op suppliers since 1996. Pre-harvest financing provides farmer co-operatives with financial credit when they need it most, at harvest time when the cooperative is competing with local middlemen for coffee deliveries.
As a worker cooperative Equal Exchange operates in the same democratic, equitable, and transparent manner that the fair trade certification system requires of the coffee farmers. Conventional companies are not required to - and do not - operate in accordance with these fair trade principles.
If you would like to read more about Fair Trade Practices in more detail please visit Equal Exchange's Website