Why a Co-op?

An overview of the reasoning, principles
and practices behind our business structure.

At Ethical Coffee Chain, we chose the co-operative model for our enterprise, because it upholds the essential values we think any ethical business must have. We are democratically owned and run by our members — namely, those who take pride not only in drinking superb coffee, but in buying it responsibly as well. And here’s the most gratifying part - the moment you buy coffee from us, you become an equal owner of the company, and so, you’re actually buying coffee from yourself.

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? But the reality is, it’s a tried-tested-and-true way of doing business, albeit a rather unpublicized one. Co-operatives have existed and flourished since 1844 in countless countries and corners of the marketplace. They were historically formed for the mutual benefit of consumers - as a way of marshalling their consumer power to receive greater and mutual benefit from their purchases. In some cases this yields the lowest price for buyers. In the case of Ethical Coffee Chain, though fair pricing is a major consideration in our operations, it is always our consumers who define just what price is fair, based on the benefit and advantage it provides members across the board. And the same standards are applied to trading when ECC trades with any coffee Farmer. This offers ECC “consumer-members” not only world-class coffee at affordable prices, but on top of that, a full knowledge of the coffee’s origin and ethical production process. As if that weren’t enough, ECC members get the added benefit of building stronger communities with their purchase.

Co-operative Principles:

All Co-operatives are governed by 7 principles defined by the International Co-operative Alliance. ECC was founded on these principles.

  1. Voluntary/open membership: Ethical Coffee Chain is open to anyone who wishes to become a member. Members may join the co-operative in order to purchase coffee and join our movement of ethical consumption. Or they may join to invest in our project. By becoming a member, individuals become part-owners of ECC.
  2. Democratic member control: Ethical Coffee Chain is controlled democratically by its members. Each member has one, and only one vote, which enables him/her to participate in all member meetings and play a role in the decision-making process of the co-operative.
  3. Member economic participation: Members of Ethical Coffee Chain can contribute to the co-operative’s success by investing in the co-operative through the purchase of Preference Shares, or through a subscription for the purchase of coffee.
  4. Autonomy and independence: Ethical Coffee Chain is an autonomous organization and it is owned, operated and controlled by you, its members!
  5. Education, training and information: Ethical Coffee Chain is committed to building resources, providing education and fostering a dialogue among its members in the areas of co-operative enterprise, coffee farming and industry, ethical consumption and fair trade.
  6. Co-operation among co-ops: Ethical Coffee Chain is committed to co-operating with other co-operative enterprises at the local and global levels.
  7. Concern for community: Ethical Coffee Chain acts from a deep concern for community, both the community of its members as well as the communities with which we carry out business and trade.

Co-operative Practices:

Member recruitment strategy: At ECC we actively seek to increase the number of members participating in our ethical trade practices. As a 21st Century Co-op we have created a large social network using online resources and we welcome connections with anyone wanting to participate. “Local” in our co-op has taken on a whole new meaning.

Director education and training: We strive to provide our directors with constant and up-to-date training on their legal responsibilities, duties, and their management skills. Our directors come from diverse life experiences, pooling their varying skills to run ECC co-operatively, equitably and efficiently.

Internal Capital Raising: Our most important capital raising activity is acquiring the financial support of our own members through the sale of Preference Shares.

Marketing the ‘Co-op difference’: We are a co-op. That makes us a unique business standing apart from other conventional companies in the coffee industry. We support and co-operate with the Canadian Co-operative Federation and the Ontario Co-operative Association.

Community ‘dividend’: A significant portion of the costs of our coffee is put aside in a community fund to carry out development projects in the Farmers’ communities in Nicaragua.