“Equal Exchange” has created Big Change since 1986. Our founders envisioned a food system that empowers farmers and consumers, supports small farmer co-ops, and uses sustainable farming methods. They started with fairly traded coffee from Nicaragua and didn’t look back.
Today, we continue to find new and powerful ways to build a better food system. We partner with co-operatives of farmers who provide high-quality organic coffees, teas, chocolates, bananas and snacks from all over the world.
Equal Exchange has created Big Change for over 20 years. It all started with an idea: what if food could be traded in a way that is honest and fair, a way that empowers both farmers and consumers? What if trade supported family farms that use organic methods, rather than industrialized agribusinesses that rely on harmful chemicals?
Our founders – Rink Dickinson, Jonathan Rosenthal and Michael Rozyne – asked these questions as they envisioned a trade model that values the farmers, consumers and the earth. So they took a big risk and plunged full-force into changing a broken food system. In 1986, they started with fairly traded coffee from Nicaragua and didn’t look back. Read more about our story.
Today, Equal Exchange continues to find new and powerful ways to build a better food system. Our products now include fairly traded and organic coffee, tea, chocolate and snacks from farmers all over the world, including here in the United States.
Our worker-owned co-op is based in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Because Equal Exchange was founded with democratic principles in mind, we strongly believe in a one-person, one-vote workplace without a corporate hierarchy. We partner with co-operatives of small-scale farmers who make their own decisions on business and community matters.
From the farmers’ co-ops to our co-op, we’re providing the best-tasting foods – while also making Big Changes to the way food ends up on your table. We’ll keep the ideas coming.
The Fair Trade certification system requires that participating farmer organizations meet demanding, but laudable, criteria: they must work for the good of all in their community; they must seek to minimize their impact upon the environment; they must make information freely available; and most importantly, they must function in a democratic manner, with the leaders elected by, and accountable to, the cooperative’s farmer members.
At Equal Exchange we believe that we
The concepts are not exotic or strange, in fact, they’re in every grade-school civics book:
– the right to vote (one vote per employee, not per share);
– the right to serve as leader (i.e. board director);
– the right to information;
– the right to speak your mind.
Also, in keeping with the Fair Trade ethic we maintain a top-to-bottom pay ratio of 4-to-1. For comparison consider that the ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay was 301-to-1 in 2003 (Source: United for a Fair Economy.) The corporate top-to-bottom ratio would necessarily be even higher.
A worker cooperative is an alternative for-profit structure based upon standard democratic principles. It is not designed to maximize profits, nor returns to investors, but rather to bring to the workplace many of the rights and responsibilities that we hold as citizens in our communities. These principles include one-person/one-vote equality; open access to information (i.e., open-book management); free speech; and the equitable distribution of resources (such as income.)
A worker co-op is not owned by outside shareholders or a small group of founders or partners but by all the employees in equal portions. Top-level managers and entry-level employees alike own an identical share and receive an equal share of any profits or losses. These “worker-owners” both elect the Board of Directors and fill six of the nine board seats. The Board, in turn, is responsible for hiring and supervising management. Consequently, a circle is formed, as in American civic democracy, of everyone being accountable to someone else.
The delegation of responsibilities is very much like that of conventional firms – which allows for efficiency – except that at Equal Exchange those at the “bottom” of the organizational chart are, as owners, also at the “top” of the same chart.