Asheville's Cooperatively-owned "Firestorm Cafe and Books announces the launch of a new partnership with fellow worker-cooperative Equal Exchange, the oldest and largest Fair Trade coffee company in the U.S. On Monday, Feb. 27, the café will celebrate the joint venture with free coffee all day and more. Here's the press release:
"We've been told for years that we serve some of the best coffee and espresso in town, so we don't take a change in beans lightly (no pun intended). Although Equal Exchange, a company firmly rooted in social movement, seemed like a natural choice for us philosophically, we spent nearly twelve months exploring the potential partnership, during which time we researched their business practices, sampled over a wide array of their roasts and twice met with representatives from their cooperative. What we found was extremely exciting.
"Founded with the goal of fostering a Fair Trade movement with teeth, Equal Exchange has been an unwavering ally of small farmer co-operatives and sustainable farming around the world. Our new cooperative partners operate a market network of over two million producers, workers, investors, merchants, activists and consumers. Over the years they have used this standing to publicly speak out against agricultural child trafficking, push back against attacks on the organic certification standard and, most recently, take a lead role in opposing the dilution of the Fair Trade standard by domestic certifier Fair Trade USA…
"Equal Exchange was recently named one of the world's "Most Democratic Workplaces" by WorldBlu and, like us, has publicly supported the Occupy movement. It seems only fitting then that we should announce this partnership in 2012, a year that is being promoted by the United Nations and major cooperative federations as the International Year of the Cooperative.Please join us on Monday, Feb. 27 to sample our new roasts and join the conversation!
"Many people in the Socially Responsible Investing world are familiar with the pioneering work that Equal Exchange has done to bring Fair Trade coffee, chocolate, tea, bananas and other products to the United States. We take great pride in the fact that our success has challenged those who thought there was nothing one could do to address the systemic inequities of global trade.
However, we’re about more than just changing the way people buy and sell what goes in their shopping basket. For 25 years Equal Exchange has been turning a host of conventional business models and practices on their heads. Pay farmers above market prices. Increase your suppliers’ market power by providing affordable credit and helping them form co-operatives. Spend time and resources to educate consumers. Encourage them to care about farmers and families they’ll never meet. Make sure there is no exit strategy. Entrust complete control and ownership of the company to the people who work there. Share your knowledge and business model with competitors and even encourage them to enter your category and compete for your customers. Don’t dodge your taxes. And it’s been working pretty well: over $40 million in annual sales, growing product lines, and fanatically loyal customers and partners.
But there have been countless social enterprises that make a splash, take off, and then…cash out. To get the capital to go big, you need to open up to outside investors, or sell the company to a global conglomerate that’s looking for a socially responsible branding opportunity, or maybe just reward the visionary entrepreneurs and early investors who got the venture off the ground. That’s the story with Burt’s Bees, Ben & Jerry’s, Tom’s of Maine, The Body Shop, Green & Black, Stonyfield Farm, Dagoba, and countless others. That’s how the system works, right?
In the SRI world, we’re told that the job of the entrepreneur and investors is to turn an exciting, idealistic vision into reality. Hopefully, you won’t have to compromise your initial social vision when you’re faced with the harsh realities of the marketplace. And when you do relinquish the reins to outside investors or the new corporate owner, you just have to have faith that they’re still in it for the right reasons, and will do the right thing no matter what signals they get from Wall Street.
"To become a worker-owner at Equal Exchange, you are required to buy your ownership share, which currently costs $3,250 (the amount is adjusted for inflation each year). To ensure that all employees can afford to buy their share, Equal Exchange offers a four-year no-interest loan for share purchase. When employees leave, they must sell their share back to the cooperative. In addition to voting rights, the employees are entitled to a share of the profits. At the end of each year, 40% of the after-tax profits (or losses) are allocated to the workers. Last year, each worker’s share was approximately $5,000. The remaining profits stay in the company as retained earnings. The company has been profitable every year but one for the last twenty years.
Jenny Kassan blogs about Equal Exchanges innovative capitalization, and the mechanisms in place to "give non-voting investors comfort that the interests of the voting shareholders (the employees) are aligned with their interests." More about investing in Equal Exchange.
Rodney North, "Answer Man" for Equal Exchange, talks about the cooperative's mission, history, farmer relationships, and interfaith program as part of an environmental video series [non sequiter eco-tips bookend the chapters].