Sporos promotes solidarity trade
In nooks around Athens, you will find businesses which work in alternative trade that subscribes to ethical principles they believe are absent from the free market. In Exarchia, the Sporos cooperative for alternative and solidarity trade operates under such principles. Because it is a genuine collective, its 30 members must participate in all its decisions. This means that for Kathimerini to secure this interview, all 30 collective members had to agree before it happened. And so I found myself facing those members, men and women whose ages ranged between 20 and 60, and that their decision to provide Zapatista coffee from Chiapas, sugar from Ecuador, cocoa from Bolivia, and mate (a tea-like beverage) from Brazil deserved publicity. I also wanted to hear their views on fair trade and their wish for fundamental societal change. Before the cafe operated by Sporos opened on Trikoupis Street, the collective’s coffee was transported by hand in Athens. It was provided by the Libertad cafe, an organization founded in Hamburg and a supplier to many collectives around the world. Sporos was created by people who had met through political activism. They consider themselves cousins to fair traders, since their philosophy has a much more pronounced political edge. The idea is to work in solidarity with indigenous communities in their struggle for dignity and justice. Cafe Libertad, for instance, partners in Chiapas with the Society of Social Solidarity «Mut Vitz» (Mountain of Birds), a cooperative consisting of communities in six autonomous municipalities and over 600 Tzotzil-speaking small farmers, to market organically grown Zapatista coffee. Sporos says the Zapatistas are a good example, since they are trying to fundamentally change their lives through political action and a sustainable economy. «We want them to build this framework, with the redistribution of wealth, with the change in relationship between producers, transporter, consumer, as much socially as economically, so more people can be paid for their work and can live with dignity,» Sporos members said. So for them trade is not just about fair prices. It’s about a fair economic framework. «We don’t just want to sell products,» the members told us. «This is a store for products and ideas. People stop by and discuss the ideas. We talk about the economy, politics, that it’s not a business but a social space which is committed to alternative and solidarity trade.» Alternative and solidarity trade differs from fair trade in that it considers every trade transaction an open process and every decision one that must be made by all its members. Fair trade gives 10 percent more [than traditional trade] to producers but in the last 10 years the fair trade price has remained the same, the Sporos collective said. Through open contracts with Sporos, producers can work with a percentage that is flexible to their needs. The Zapatista coffee is delicious. While you sip it, you can discuss the politics of Sporos members, but they will also listen to your views as well. You will see magazines with titles like «Rezistencias» and «Alana,» which chronicle the activities of political and social groups in Latin America. The walls are painted in joyful colors and decorated with photographs from Chiapas, since one of the Sporos members used to live in Mexico. We should not place Fair Trade Hellas and the Sporos cafe in the same category. Though they generally follow the same principles, sometimes they agree and sometimes they do not. Altromercato says that they want people to buy products because they need them, not because they are victims of marketing. Sporos wants the process of trade to happen with the future in mind and with care to sustainability. But, either way, the coffee is great. (1) This article first appeared in the June 11 issue of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement. Photos by Pepi Loulakaki and Christos Stephanidou.