Fair Trade and Equal Exchange – aren’t they the same thing?

Some lingo:

Co-operatives (Co-ops) – an enterprise owned and controlled by its members; “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise… Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity” (International Co-operative Association Statement on the Co-operative Identity)

Fair Trade – Began when the Ten Thousand Villages craft company (US) started buying needlework from poor communities in Puerto Rico in 1946. In the 1950s, the term “Fair Trade” was popping up in Europe as companies began to rely on production of artisan crafts and raw goods produced by refugees and small farmers in “Third World” countries (then came “reEThird World Shop” in 1969, “World Shops” and “Fair Trade Shops”). In 1968, the second United Nations Conference of Trade and Development recommended “Trade not Aid” which emphasized the creation of equitable trade relations with the global South. European Fair Trade Organization was formed in 1987 and the World Fair Trade Organization was created in 1989.

Original intent for Fair Trade – “Fair Trade provides a minimum baseline price for commodities, allowing farmers to hedge against market volatility. The co-operative system allows small farmers better access to global markets and encourages democratic representation.” (Andrew Chambers “Not so fair trade” in The Guardian 2009)



…So then what’s Equal Exchange?


Modification of Fair Trade USA

In 2014 → “Has Fair Trade USA sold out?” by Erik Hoffner in the Washington Post

Screenshot 2017-11-16 16.28.26_preview.png

Fair Trade USA executive: “The fair trade movement has been limited by a ‘small is beautiful’ mentality. We have a bigger vision.”



Why Equal Exchange counters Fair Trade USA:

“Paul is not afraid to think and act on a big scale. That’s one of his great gifts. And he’s willing to cut any corners to get there. That, to me, is one of his great faults.” – Rink Dickinson, Equal Exchange Co-Founder and Co-Director

“On certified plantations, workers may get better conditions, but they don’t own more land, they don’t have a greater political voice, they’re not masters of their own destiny” –Rodney North, Equal Exchange spokesman

“Fair Trade is for small farmers and small producers who are democratically organized. If you take the democracy out you have traditional aid or world bank development or what the TransFair USA and the European certifiers are now trying to call Fair Trade… if you want the fastest supply chain that produces the most tea or coffee or bananas at commercial terms you have entered into some socially responsible product world of which there are many examples. It just ain’t Fair Trade, and it won’t have the same positive benefits.” – Rink Dickinson, Equal Exchange Co-Founder and Co-Director

“While ‘fair’ pricing arguably improves the lot of many producers, and contributes to sustainable relations of trade, recent studies have shown that certified systems of fair trade fall short of addressing the root causes of impoverishment and inequitable power relations.” –The Co-operative Learning Centre

“There is no basis for believing that fair trade plantations are any better than other similarly situated plantations in India. Wages are the same, living conditions are the same, education is the same, health care is the same. And all of those conditions are pretty terrible.” – Peter Rosenblum, Professor of International Law and Human Rights at Bard College


The 4 pillars of Equal Exchange’s mission:

  1. Fair Trade with small-scale farmers
  2. Support for sustainable farming
  3. To operate as a democratically governed worker co-operative
  4. Encourage consumers to think about, and care about, small-scale farmers around the world



Equal Exchange’s partnerships

 Catholic Relief Services – CRS has been collaborating with Equal Exchange since 2007 and has developed the “Ethical Trade” Program. This partnership is based in the values of Catholic Social Teaching and its call for advocacy, education, and conscientious purchasing to “celebrate the dignity of work”


Fair Trade Partners

  • Fullwell Mill Ltd – largest dedicated Fair Trade dried fruit importer to the UK
  • Oke USA – created by 3 entrepreneurial organizations (Agrofair, Red Tomato, and Equal Exchange) with goal to introduce small famer, fair trade bananas to the USw
  • Ten Thousand Villages – has grown from the trunk of founder Edna Ruth Byler’s car to a network of more than 390 retail outlets throughout the United States
    • Handmade gifts, jewelry, home decor, art & sculpture and personal accessories made by artisans in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East
    • Product sales help pay for food, education, healthcare and housing for artisans who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed
  • Traidcraft – Established in 1979 as a Christian response to poverty and is now the UK’s leading fair trade organization; runs development programs in impoverished countries and promotes trade justice through international campaigns






Further Reading/ Works Cited


Co-operatives and Fair Trade



Equal Exchange is Fighting for Fair Trade’s Soul – Founded in the 1980s, Equal Exchange helped pioneer fair trade in the United States. Now, the Company wants to keep the socially-conscious business movement honest



Equal Exchange’s Website



Has Fair Trade Sold Out? – A war is brewing over the meaning of ‘fair trade’ – and whether the group’s certification makes any difference at all



History of Fair Trade



What is CRS Ethical Trade?



The 10 Principles of Fair Trade




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