Fair Trade Model Under Attack

Fair Trade Model Under Attack

 Last Monday I attended a presentation by Mr. Santiago Paz of the Peruvian small farmers co-op CEPICAFE at the Equal Exchange warehouse in Portland. He focused on what is authentic fair trade. In the last few years the brand “Fair Trade” has been hi-jacked by corporate interests both in the producing & consuming nations. We all see so-called Fair Trade labels on mostly products from the Southern Hemisphere, i.e. coffee, chocolate, fruit and vegetables. But is it really fair?

 Groups like Fair Trade USA are actually marketing ploys that allow plantations and large corporate interests to claim that their products enhance the well being of the people of the producing regions. This is the farthest from the truth—the profits flow directly to the wealthy, the small farmers get every little for their labor. Fair Trade USA is NOT a co-operative or social justice label.

 Small farmers working together through co-operatives to improve their farming methods, distribution and marketing their products characterize authentic fair trade. The net result of this cooperation is that the profit of their labor flows into their communities to improve living conditions, education and civic life.  It’s democracy in action.

 Mr. Paz pointed out that the “Fair Trade” movement has lost control of the brand “fair trade” it cannot be reclaimed. The brand name is no longer controlled or owned by co-operative producers. He asserts that the fair trade movement needs to re-invite its brand and educate the consumer on what is authentic fair trade. Small farmer co-operatives from around the world are promoting a new label. www.SPP.coop. Check it out!

 What is our role in this! Simply, educate, educate, & educate what authentic fair trade is and how to identify the real thing in our markets & stores. Politically, we need to demand that “fair trade” label means support for small farmers and push large corporations to abandon fair trade marketing ploys and support small farmers with authentic fair trade. Here’s a link for more detailed info:





A Peek into the Rural Co-op Movement

A Peek into the Rural Co-op Movement

Rod Nilsestuen Legacy Event

Feeding the World, Sustaining the Land, Inspiring Cooperative Action

Hosted by: Ralph K. Morris Foundation and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls

 I had the wonderful opportunity to attend this event through my membership in the Democracy at Work Network (a program of the United State Federation of Worker Co-ops).  We urban cooperators tend to see Agriculture & Rural co-ops as billion dollar businesses that have left the co-op principles behind. Check assumptions my friends!

When I walked into the conference hall, the first thing I noticed was that most of the attendees were decked out in business suits. Wow, I have never seen this at any co-op event that I have attended. I cautioned myself against profiling folks & the old adage; “don’t judge a book by its cover” came to mind.

The event was in honor of Rod Nilsestuen a co-op leader in Wisconsin who led the way in progressive land use policies, market development, bridging the rural/urban divide and in building the co-op movement in Wisconsin.

 The conference was organized in a series of panels with space for questions from the floor after each speaker or panel. My first impressions from the get go was that our rural cooperators friends are VERY serious about the co-op principles & values. They informed every subject that was discussed.

 Here are some take-aways that stuck in my head:

1)    Lack of medical/social care for the elderly & disabled in rural areas; A very inspiring story of how working women created a worker-owned co-op to meet the needs of their community (Cooperative Care, Wautoma, WI).

2)    How to maintain sustainable land practices. Rural co-ops are actively engaged in creating wetlands, protecting marginal land from going into production, and lobbying for funding land conservation programs in the new farm bill.

3)    How to deal with the aging farmer population (the average farmer is 54)? How can co-ops help open farming to young people?

4)    Rural co-ops are cooperating with co-ops in the developing world to improve farming methods, how to get food to market & improve rural village life.

5)    How can co-ops reach their business goals and engage & build civil society?

6)    Rural Electric Co-ops are actively investing in alternative energy & wholesaling electricity at a fair price.

7)    A clear understanding that the co-op model will provide solutions to social problems that capital cannot provide.

My biggest take-away of the day was the need for cross sector communication and action in the co-op movement. We co-op people tend to live in our little bubbles of our industries and co-op models. We need to practice the sixth co-op principle: Cooperation Among Cooperatives.

 Peace, Boballa