In 1979 three aid volunteers returned from Africa. They had seen how small-scale farmers were plunging themselves into debt due to the appallingly low prices they received for their products and buyers’ lack of transparency. At the same time, coffee consumption was growing in the UK and yet the people drinking it had no idea that the farmers were not even covering their costs or that they had no other choices. Throwing money at the problem was not the only answer – direct, fairer trading would make a real difference.
The team imported coffee from Tanzania and Nicaragua, launching Campaign Coffee Scotland. In 1990 Campaign Coffee Scotland re branded as Equal Exchange and became a workers’ co-operative, reflecting the values that we still believe in today.
We now work with a wide range of farming communities to make the world a fairer and more transparent place. Equal Exchange no longer just focuses on coffee; we import a range of products from honey to chocolates. Together with our producer partners, we share a passion for producing the best quality coffees, cocoa, honey, sugar, chocolates and oils that are worth every penny and our products are all fully traceable
In 2013 fellow Co-op Equal Exchange US, an independent alternative trader with a parallel origin story and roots dating back to the late seventies in the USA, invested in Equal Exchange UK. In 2017 the decision was made to bring Equal Exchange UK and Equal Exchange under one ownership. Equal Exchange UK became a subsidiary organization of Equal Exchange US, and after years of working closely together, the two organizations became fully integrated. The workers at Equal Exchange UK joined the larger US co-op structure, uniting both cooperative sectors as one.
Equal Exchange USA
As a Fair Trade pioneer we believe that Fair Trade can and should do more, which is why we are always searching for new ways of connecting with our producers, such as our Grown By Women project, and our values influence every bit of our business. This means that you know, and we know, that Equal Exchange products are always fair, sustainable, and delicious.
Fair Trade is what we do now and what we were created for. To develop products that enable marginalised farmers to get their goods into our competitive markets in a sustainable way but also to connect consumers with what they eat and drink. Our founders realised that coffee drinkers in the UK back in 1979 had no idea that the farmers that actually produced the coffee were being given less than it cost to grow it. Even now our supply chains can be so complex we have no idea where our food and drink originates from. Transparency is very important to us and everything we sell is traceable right back.
We work with small farmer, democratically organised co-operatives as trading partners through both the good and the bad times, some of whom we have worked with for many, many years. The additional income that comes from the Fairtrade premiums enables communities to spend money where it is most needed, whether it’s on new cooking stoves, a mobile health clinic, or buying new equipment to improve their working practices. On top of all of this, we support a producer development programme for our coffee growers which also funds our Grown By Women initiative.
Fair Trade doesn’t just mean a fair price. Farming is a perilous business, at the mercy of the weather, and with climate change this challenge is getting bigger. We forge long-term relationships with our suppliers so that they can plan for the future and get access to credit when they need it. We pre-finance when we can, support co-operative partners to gain Organic certified status, freight overland and pack at source whenever we can. Fair Trade to us means independence, security, and farmers able to plan for their future.
Organic farming is a ‘whole system’ approach to food production, recognising the direct connection between the health of the world and the way we produce food. Organic farms don’t use manufactured chemical fertilisers – instead they use sustainable methods to maintain fertile soil and healthy plants, such as crop rotation and composting. Many of these methods have been passed down through generations of farmers and are highly tuned to the local environment.
Organic farming means that farmers are less reliant on oil-based fertilisers, significantly cut their greenhouse emissions, and are not exposed to dangerous chemicals. When you buy one of our organic products you know that it was grown to strict standards to protect you, the farmer, and the environment.
Our organic products are independently certified by the Soil Association. This is your guarantee that your purchase has been produced to the strictest organic standards.
We believe that our business works better when everyone takes part. That’s why Equal Exchange is a worker-owned co-operative. This means that we all have a stake in the company and we all have a say in what happens. Equal Exchange is not owned by outside shareholders which means that our profits can be used to improve the company or invested in our supply chains.
Most of our producer partners are also organised into cooperatives, meaning that decisions are made democratically and they all have equal access to and responsibility for business procedures and the future of their products.
For more information about co-operatives visit Co-operatives UK.