Twenty years ago, Rink Dickinson's business model had people warning him, "Don't waste your time. It'll never work." Today, he is co-founder and president of Equal Exchange. The 90-employee West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, organic coffee, tea and chocolate company engages in fair trade practices, which eliminate middlemen and allow producers to earn a significant share of their product's final price. Equal Exchange projects sales of $24 million this year.
The company is an employee-owned cooperative that works with farmer cooperatives in 15 countries. "The organization reflects the mission to make the world work better," says Dickinson, 49.
Fair trade does have its challenges: Dickinson sees big corporations trying to lower fair trade standards, with some degree of success. But he also sees entrepreneurial opportunity in offering consumers more openness and fairness: "They really want to support something that works differently." he says.
Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.