Ethiquable is a cooperative business, a SCOP (worker cooperative), whose capital belongs to 42 worker-members out of a total staff of 61 employees. We import and distribute fair-trade and organic products from about forty cooperatives in 26 different countries. With 14 million euros in sales revenue in 2012 and over 6 million products sold each year, we are a major actor in France’s fair-trade sector.
What makes us unique is that we are very involved upstream with the producer organizations. Several of our employees at Ethiquable are agronomists with experience working in agricultural development in the South. In fact, two members of our staff have even worked on the ground with AVSF in the past. One of them is based in Quito, Equateur [Ecuador].
Our partnership with AVSF goes all the way back to 2003. From the very beginning, we have been working with smallholder organizations supported by AVSF in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Besides the personal bonds between our teams, our partnership is based on a common vision: in addition to helping marginalized populations, fair trade needs to promote both smallholder farming and the emancipation of producer organizations.
After working together in Latin America, we went on to develop other projects together in Africa, Madagascar, and Haiti. What we provide is a stable and lucrative outlet. AVSF ensures the necessary long-term, on-the-ground assistance. Without that assistance, the organizations would not be able to develop the capacities to export their goods on their own, manage themselves autonomously, and have a significant impact in their local area.
After a period of strong growth from 2003 to 2008, the market has been growing at a slower pace and even declined a bit last year. This is a result of the crisis as well as the sector’s relatively minor presence in the media and in other forums. The market has also been affected by the emergence of private labels, which currently account for about 30% of volume. The challenge for Ethiquable is to show the consumer how our approach is different, why it is important to have a direct, long-term commitment with an easily identified cooperative. Since we do not advertise, we decided to change our packaging to better communicate to the consumer that behind each product, there is a project being carried out to help the producers.
We don’t think that the initiatives of the private labels or big companies are anything to worry about, but we need to ensure that the required criteria is respected. To do so, we need to show that it is possible and influence the choices of the certifiers. On our side, we have decided to use three labels: the long-standing Fairtrade Max Havelaar label, the Ecocert Equitable label, and the Symbole des Producteurs Paysans [Small Producers Symbol] – because it’s an initiatve of the producers themselves.