Equal Exchange is one of the largest roasters of fair trade coffee in the world, and they are 100% owned and operated by their workers. Their headquarters in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts is a great place to film, especially if you like chocolate and coffee.
A new employee who wishes to join the coop works for a probationary period, and then existing coop worker owners vote to decide if the new person should become a member. If she/he is approved, the new member will begin to buy in to the company. All members have an equal say in setting company policy. The 120 member staff is divided into teams with managers in each department.
Each member can choose to spend 4 hours of the work week to participate in meetings, trainings, and other member development activities. At staff meetings and broad policy discussions, the member owners take an active part in setting company policy, a role that is taken very seriously. In one group discussion on innovation and risk, Daniel Fireside cautions, “A lot of folks look to us as a role model. If we take a risk and we fail totally, not only are the livelihoods of our members at stake, but so is the model of a successful worker coop.”
EE imports fair traded coffee, chocolate, tea, sugar, olive oil, and bananas. When new worker owners are voted in, the company pays their way to Latin America or Africa for a first hand experience with some of the small coffee and cacao farmers who provide raw materials for Equal Exchange products.
Customers include specialty food stores, coops and faith based groups who appreciate the company’s social mission, ”to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate…the contribution of worker co-operatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world.”