The familiar goods we buy—from our morning coffee to that midnight chocolate snack—often make their way from farmers’ fields to a consumers’ tables in mysterious ways. We all look for the lowest price on our purchases, but what do these bargains mean to the small-scale farmers at the beginning of the supply chain? Most often, they mean these farmers are squeezed out of the market by multi-national corporations that pay too little attention to environmental stewardship and labor conditions. It’s in their interests to keep these small farmers’ needs as invisible as possible by focusing your attention on that low price, and not on the toll their business practices take on workers’ and farmers’ lives.
When Equal Exchange was founded 30 years ago, consumers had hardly heard of fair trade when they shopped at their local grocery store. Since its start as a worker-owned cooperative, Equal Exchange has lived its values, always putting workers’ rights and sustainable livelihoods front and center. While a lot has happened in the last three decades, one thing remains constant: authentic fair trade is all about small-scale farmers gaining control of their own livelihoods, working together in democratically-run cooperatives. Fair trade’s guaranteed minimum prices for harvests provide a stable source of income and allow farmers to invest in education and social services for their communities. Fair trade means families stay on their land, making organic agriculture and care for the environment their priorities.
Over the years, as consumer awareness of fairly traded products grew, UUSC and Equal Exchange have partnered to link together farmers (the beginning of the supply chain) with congregations (the end point) through the UUSC Coffee Project. Since this project was established, Equal Exchange has donated twenty cents for every pound of fairly traded Equal Exchange products purchased by Unitarian Universalist congregations. Besides the fair price small farmers are paid for their harvests, that twenty cents adds up to a big total investment in the UUSC Small Farmer Fund. Established to strengthen cooperatives around the world, it’s a simple, yet powerful way for UU congregations to put their faith and principles into action.
Today, the idea of fair trade has expanded to other consumer categories, such as apparel and handcrafts. Likewise, Equal Exchange has led the way for continued growth of fair trade certification in the food industry, including kitchen staples like bananas, nuts, fruits, and chocolate. In order to better reflect the variety of fair trade items available through Equal Exchange, UUSC is renaming its partnership with Equal Exchange from the “UUSC Coffee Project” to the “UUSC Fair Trade Project.” This change in name better reflects the expansive scope of fair trade UUs can now support through their commitment to ethical purchasing habits.
How can you get involved more deeply in justice work for fair trade? Visit our new Fair Trade Project page, and learn about the four concrete ways you can put your values into action. Be sure to follow The Good Buy’s blog for the latest updates on fair trade and opportunities to make worker justice a part of your worship services, coffee hour, life at home, and your community.