I was interested in the space where economic and political systems intersect, how power structures influence us and what can be done to create a more sustainable system. [Capitalism] puts a monetary value on everything to the detriment of our planet.
Danielle Robidoux saw a different world – literally and figuratively – during a Bridgewater State University study tour to Nicaragua, led by Dr. James Hayes-Bohanan of the Department of Geography as part of his course “Geography of Coffee.”
“In class we were talking about the deep political issues surrounding coffee,” said the Dedham native who majored in economics. “Then we went to Nicaragua. The poverty was ever-present.”
Ms. Robidoux (at right in Nicaragua) knew firsthand about growing up in a low-income household. Still, seeing such debilitating need up close had a great impact on her.
She went on to earn a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Massachusetts Boston, and she now works as an organizer for Equal Exchange, a worker-owned cooperative and fair-trade food company, and one of the largest alternative-trade organizations in the world, headquartered in West Bridgewater. The company sells fair-trade coffee, tea, chocolate and produce.
“I was interested in the space where economic and political systems intersect, how power structures influence us and what can be done to create a more sustainable system,” she said. Capitalism, she added, “puts a monetary value on everything to the detriment of our planet.”
When talking to Ms. Robidoux, what comes across is both her passion and her expertise. At Equal Exchange, she connects with consumers and alerts them about where their food comes from. Often, the sources do not make for a pretty picture. The system that delivers that food to American dinner tables is problematic in many ways, she added, from worker exploitation to “middlemen” who increase the cost of food without adding value.
Equal Exchange was founded in the mid-1980s and works with small-scale farmers and producers around the world, spurning large agricultural growers and distribution chains. The company’s mission is pro-labor, promoting equity and sustainability in all it does.
As Ms. Robidoux sums it up: people, the planet and economics. In this mix, she believes she has found
“I think for me, I want to make a positive contribution to our system,” she said. “I want the world to be better. And I feel by working at Equal Exchange I am doing this.
“Consumers need to understand this work, otherwise we won’t exist,” she added. “We need to communicate that this is a different model, and it can work.”