Cooperatives: A Different Way Forward

October 31, 2017

Today’s feature is a condensed version of an original post written by Phil Hamilton, Economic Justice Program Leader at UUSC.

Every day, we are confronted with simple choices that have broad impacts such as: “What coffee should I buy?” or “Where are my clothes made?” Like so many people, I am pulled in a constant tug of war between my desire to find affordable products and my desire to live my values of advancing economic and environmental justice.

As UUSC celebrates Fair Trade and Cooperative Month this October, I am reflecting on my daily decisions and how I can support cooperatives advancing the fight for economic justice with each one I make.

Cooperatives: Jointly Owned, Democratically Controlled

Cooperatives are playing a critical role in producing the products we rely on, from the coffee you drink to the clothing you wear. Given the ways in which many large companies shirk responsibilities to employees and the environment in the pursuit of ever-growing profits, cooperatives provide an alternative option that focuses on cooperation and justice for workers and the planet.

It is precisely because cooperatives are a different way forward that UUSC has partnered with Equal Exchange, a worker-owned cooperative in the United States. This partnership allows us to support other cooperatives throughout the world with the UUSC Fair Trade Project. As part of this project, Equal Exchange donates 20 cents to the UUSC Small Farmer Fund for every pound of fairly traded products UU congregations and like-minded individuals purchase.

UUSC Small Farmer Fund

Thanks to these purchases and the Small Farmer Fund, UUSC has developed partnerships with new cooperatives, such as the Fundación Entre Mujeres (FEM) in Estelí, Nicaragua. For over two decades, FEM, a feminist organization run by women farmers, has worked to advance the rights of Nicaraguan peasant women through activities like the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices. FEM has learned that carrying out these practices as a cooperative helps them to empower and enable their members to exercise their rights and advance social justice beyond their day-to-day work as farmers. For example, through their agro-ecological projects they support the efforts of the women to address the challenges they face as a result of inequality in access to land and resources, the advance of large-scale mono-culture agriculture, and climate change.

This is similar to Equal Exchange’s focus on supporting the collective power of small farmers and workers in the United States and around the world. The Coffee Farmer Resilience Initiative supports coffee farmers’ efforts to work together and become more resilient in the face of shared challenges, such as coffee rust and other changing environmental conditions resulting from climate change.

Putting Your Values into Action

By supporting cooperatives and fair trade, you can put your values to action. Equal Exchange recently launched the Equal Exchange Action Forum, where you can receive more information about fair trade and cooperatives and take direct action to support these initiatives.

At The Good Buy, you can purchase Equal Exchange’s roasted coffees, chocolates, and other snacks to support the Small Farmer Fund and our partnerships with cooperatives like FEM. You can also learn more about fair trade and support other businesses that work to advance economic justice values all year round on The Good Buy's Blog.

If you’re interested in taking a step further, and engaging with cooperatives and fair trade beyond your purchases, you can check out the College of Social Justice to learn more about and sign up for different immersion journeys to Nicaragua, including visits to FEM and Equal Exchange supported cooperatives. CSJ’s immersion experiences provide an opportunity to explore avenues for solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and to connect with broader social movements working to advance human rights. Learn more about all of CSJ’s trips and participants’ reflections on their blog.

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