Over the course of Equal Exchange’s 33-year history, we’ve witnessed a constant stream of mission-driven businesses create waves in their industry, get big, and then … sell out to a faceless corporate behemoth — a Greek tragedy in three acts. Sometimes the early investors demand it. More often, the founders, or whoever happen to hold the keys to the place at that moment, are given an offer they can’t refuse: take the piles of cash or get crushed by their cutthroat competitors. The generous ones spread some of the bounty to the workers. The committed ones try to negotiate a way for the mission to live on, but frankly, we’ve never seen that work out over the long term. A few years later, most will confess that the money wasn’t worth it.
So, how has Equal Exchange avoided this fate for over three decades while growing into one of the largest and most successful worker-owned co-operatives in the country?