2022 was an exciting year for our team and our partner farmers — we became members of the Fair Trade Federation! This was a huge accomplishment for us, achieved after many months of completing an extensive application process, auditing our operations, and formalizing our policies. But what does this mean for us, for you, and for the farmers in Moreau?
What does fair trade mean?
According to FTF, fair trade is “an approach to business and to development based on dialogue, transparency, and respect that seeks to create greater equity in the international trading system.” Organizations like ours uphold fair trade values by partnering with “farmers and craftspeople in developing countries who are socially and economically marginalized” and helping them reach new markets for their goods.
What is fair trade verification through the Fair Trade Federation?
The Fair Trade Federation (FTF) is a global network of “fair trade enterprises fully committed to equitable and sustainable trading partnerships” and endeavors to create equity, justice, and dignified livelihoods for all. Fair trade verification means that a company has demonstrated its commitment and ability to uphold the nine Fair Trade Federation Principles at every step of its operations.
How did we become members of the Fair Trade Federation?
We spent much of 2022 completing the detailed application process to earn this status. The Fair Trade Federation reviews and approves all aspects of our business — including our business interactions with the farmers in Haiti, payment processes, sourcing of other materials, accountability for our impact, and much more. This process has also helped us structure our work to ensure we maintain our values as we scale. We are proud to formalize our way of doing work with outside review from a reputable fair trade organization.
Why did we pursue fair trade verification for our company?
For us, fair trade verification is both a celebration of our progress so far and a humble rededication to the values that have brought us here. Since 2016, we have proudly partnered with farmers in Moreau to grow a poverty-free Haiti, starting at the root. From vetiver grass to beekeeping, we have spent the past years supporting these rural farmers as they develop sustainable agricultural practices that protect the environment and create new income opportunities in their community.
As with our public benefit corporation status, these outside verifications of our business are important to us and represent a rededication to our values. We are excited to continue growing our company, our relationships, and our impact over the coming years — and recognize the thoughtful steps we must take to ensure this growth happens ethically and sustainably for the communities and partners we work with.
Now that we are members of the Fair Trade Federation, will anything change in our operations?
Our membership in the FTF does not change how we do our work — but rather, given the FTF’s reputation for ethical labor, fair prices, economic development, and environmental sustainability, this verification serves as third-party mechanism to ensure our company is accountable and transparent in all of our practices — to the benefit of both the farmers in Haiti and our customers across the US.
We look forward to all of the new opportunities to grow our company and strengthen our relationships with farmers in Haiti now that we are members of the Fair Trade Federation. Ultimately, we strive to increase justice, knowledge, and sustainability in Haiti and around the world and will continue to seek out partnerships, certifications, and accountability measures to ensure we accomplish that in everything we do.
How we uphold the nine Fair Trade Federation principles
Cultivating new market opportunities
Since day one, we have understood that we bring resources, connections, and funding to the Farmers’ Association of Moreau that they may not otherwise have access to. We are not agricultural experts — we rely on the farmers’ vast knowledge and experience in tending their land and local ecosystems for that. Instead, we have the unique ability to create, nurture, and grow new market opportunities for their natural products and can help them finance sustainable farming practices by finding profitable uses for raw goods like honey and beeswax. This is especially useful since honey competes with sugar cane in local markets and beeswax has no wide use in Haiti after harvesting from the hives — giving us the opportunity to establish an entirely new income source for the farmers.
Developing transparent and accountable relationships
Our company would not exist and could not have grown without individual, business, and community relationships at each step of what we do. From our earliest days as a group project at the University of Minnesota to our years-long partnership with the Farmers’ Association of Moreau, we rely on open communication, transparent business practices, and accountability to our promises to do our work every day.
- In Haiti: We maintain constant contact with the farmers in Moreau to keep them updated on our business operations, decisions, and performance. During visits to Haiti, we hold discussions, in both small and large groups, to allow members of the community to ask us questions, provide feedback on our operations, and discuss their worries or criticisms.
- In the US: We pride ourselves on being transparent with our supporters, customers, and retailers about our processes, products, and financial expenditures. From our digital presence to our annual reports, we keep our followers updated on our work and welcome questions, feedback, and ideas at all times.
In our work, building capacity means growing our operations methodically and sustainably — for people and the planet. This will always be a challenge in rural Haiti, and is a key reason that we do this work — capacity building requires physical infrastructure, financial investments, and policy changes that can be developed slowly over time in rural Haiti, but are not guaranteed and will always come with complexity. Because Moreau is a rural community in a mountainous region of the country, our partner farmers do not have consistent access to paved roads, running water, electricity, and other infrastructure; their ability to supply us with beeswax and honey is constrained by the lack of machinery and electricity available to them. We try to account for infrastructure gaps and provide the community with additional annual development funds, but we also understand that scaling our operations and growing capacity in the region will take time. We believe our dual initiatives of environmental sustainability and economic opportunity will provide farmers with the resources they need to catalyze this process — but also recognize that there are external factors that will always be out of our control.
Promoting fair trade
Even before joining the Fair Trade Federation, we have proudly aligned ourselves with organizations that share our values. Through our collaborations with retailers, markets, and more, we collectively promote fair trade principles, making ethical business and products more accessible to consumers. We value our participation in the fair trade community because it has been a strong channel to reach broader audiences and forge meaningful connections — while also spreading these values and helping consumers make better purchasing decisions. Further, when we work with organizations that are not fair-trade verified, we review their mission and values to ensure they are consistent with ours.
Paying promptly and fairly
Above all else, we value our relationship with the farmers in Moreau and the transparent, honest communication that we maintain with them. A key part of this is ensuring prompt and fair compensation for their work, especially providing them with pre-harvest financing and other funding arrangements to help them grow sustainable agriculture in their region. Furthermore, we pay in advance of receiving honey and beeswax from the farmers,which ensures that they are paid in full regardless of our sales in the US or delays associated with transportation and seasonal operations.
Supporting safe and empowering working conditions
The health and safety of the farmers in Moreau is our top priority and we ensure that growing their farming operations does not pose any risk to them or the natural environment. All harvesting of honey and beeswax takes place on individual farms; farm land is located on the same property as their houses, and the farmers do not have communal farms or engage in wild-harvest gathering. Each farmer maintains 2-25 beehives, which they harvest once or twice a year. They each are equipped with, at minimum, basic protective gear — including a beekeeping suit and a smoker — which decreases risk of stings while handling the hives.
During our visits, we meet with the farmers and they show us their beehives and demonstrate how they care for them; we take note of any health and safety concerns to discuss areas of improvement with the larger Farmers’ Association of Moreau. We evaluate the health and safety risks during the entire beekeeping process by discussing the process with the farmers as well as several US-based beekeeping experts. As part of our efforts to expand beekeeping, we plan to provide additional safety equipment and formal training.
Ensuring the rights of children
We are dedicated to ensuring children are not involved in the production/harvest of beeswax and honey. Our expectations regarding the involvement of children in production are clear and are consistently communicated to our partners in Moreau. During our visits to Haiti, we tour farms and speak to farmers directly to ask how children are involved in their work. We require confirmation that children are not involved in the care of beehives or harvest of bee products, since only trained adult beekeepers with proper protective equipment can do this work. Further, during the Farmers’ Association meetings that we attend, we ask farmers to verify that children are not active in any part of the harvest or production of the bee products we purchase.
While we do not allow the use of child labor in the production of our products, we also do not interfere with culturally accepted work such as farming chores and household work. Though we accept this level of involvement of children in family life, we also are clear that children cannot be actively involved in the production or harvest of bee products, and participation in basic chores cannot interfere with education. Over 95% of the children in Moreau attend regular school, so our expectation is that no children will be working at home during school hours.
Cultivating environmental stewardship
We have always held the core belief that poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability are interconnected goals that can be achieved together. At the beginning of our partnership, the Farmers’ Association of Moreau made it clear that they struggled most with soil erosion and deforestation in their mountainous region; over time, this has led to fertile topsoil washing away, less food production, and less biodiversity in the area. We have worked together over the past several years on initiatives like beekeeping that provide the farmers with new sources of income and increased food production.
This is long, slow work that relies on the generational knowledge of the farmers to tend to their crops, animals, and trees in geographically and culturally appropriate ways. We further uphold our commitment to environmental sustainability in our operations in the US. All of our products are packaged in materials that are either compostable or recyclable (cardboard, paper, glass, metal, etc.) and we thoroughly vet our suppliers’ environmental impact before we purchase from them.
Respecting cultural, racial, and ethnic identities
Haiti has a long, complex history of colonization, enslavement, revolution, and globalization. Whether within our executive team or in conversation with the farmers, we ensure we have nuanced, context-driven dialogues that center equity and justice. We often have to make big decisions about our operations, and always discuss our options and impacts with our partner farmers before we move forward. We are dedicated to always respecting the cultural, racial, and ethnic identities of the farmers we work with. Our team always owns up to and fixes our inevitable mistakes along the way. We are also committed to these values in our interactions with our supporters, customers, and retailers; as a corporate citizen of Minnesota, US, and the world, we hold ourselves accountable to ethical and transparent engagement from the first step in our supply chain to the checkout line.