Keep in touch
Employees are required to make a trip to a farmer co-op within their first 30 months. Every month, the company sends staff, clients, and reporters to some of its 19 partners around the world.
Lend a hand
Equal Exchange provides farmers with more than $1 million in preharvest financing, which goes to pay for food, clothing, and other essentials. Such close ties can help ensure that it gets first dibs on the choicest coffee.
Equal Exchange trains growers in everything from fertilizing crops to getting organic certification. Farmers are invited to headquarters in Massachusetts to work with coffee experts.
Turn failures into successes
Rather than seek out new suppliers when farmers fail to meet expectations, Equal Exchange works to correct the problems. After standards slipped at one co-op, the company cut its contract by 20%. The co-op fine-tuned its sorting and processing and now sells more than ever.
A version of this article appeared in the November 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.