Global workers benefit from Philly shops

The Sexy Green Truck is one Main Campus business that supports fair-trade practices.

The Sexy Green Truck is one Main Campus business that supports fair-trade practices.

The aroma of freshly-brewed caffeinated liquid fills Mugshots CoffeeHouse & Café at 2100 Fairmount Ave. Whether it’s with polite greetings or the smell of the extra-dark coffee, customers feel instantly welcomed. And while these two factors may put Mugshots CoffeeHouse on some people’s lists of favorite spots in the city, there’s something even more special about the store.

Mugshots purchases its coffee from Equal Exchange, a fair-trade roaster in Massachusetts that has built personal relationships with farmers from Indonesia, Mexico, Africa and other coffee-producing countries.

Fair trading is a partnership between buyers and sellers that ensures suitable working conditions and fair wages to cover the cost of living for the laborers who produce the goods.

“Our philosophy is fair and local first,” Mugshots owner Angela Vendetti said. “We observe the ‘triple bottom line’ – people, profit, planet. This model of sustainability ensures that while we are making a profit, there are no unintended dire consequences on the environment, the community or in the lives of our suppliers.

“The fair-trade model supports organic growing, which is better for the environment and better for the health of farmers and the end consumer,” she added. “We have seen firsthand how our relationships with small farmers have directly helped to improve their quality of life – they’ve opened schools, implemented systems to improve their yield and addressed serious health concerns in their communities.”

Although fair trade does not eliminate the middlemen, it aims to reduce their influence on the market.

“Typically, the middlemen took advantage of a desperate situation and offered much less than what it was worth,” Vendetti said.

“Before fair trade, the traditional model of distribution for coffee left the growers to rely on middlemen to come and purchase their crops, based on the price of coffee in the New York Stock Exchange, which means nothing to a farmer in a rural area with no direct communication with the outside world,” Vendetti said. “Coffee is harvested once per year, so farmers need to plan a year out with the money they earn.”

Kaffa Crossing, a café at 4423 Chestnut St., was founded by entrepreneur and philanthropist Yonas Kebede, who also sells fair-trade coffee. Kaffa Crossing supports fair wages to generally poorly-paid coffee farmers, and it serves as a marketplace for original ethnic pieces handcrafted by African men and women – also operating under fair-trade policies.

But international fair trade is not the only way to support fair wages and working conditions. Local fair trade can serve as a great way to sustain these principles and support the local economy, and it is closer to home than West Philadelphia.

The Sexy Green Truck, located on Montgomery Street between 12th and 13th streets, is more than a convenient location to grab lunch between classes. This truck sells Joe’s Coffee – a company that sells nuts, coffee, chocolate and various other goods from more than 200 local family farmers. The Artist’s Palate, inside the Tyler School of Art building on Norris Street between 12th and 13th streets, also offers locally grown, fair-trade coffee.

But perhaps one of the most successful places in Philadelphia to use fair-trade practices is the 1122 Walnut St. location of Ten Thousand Villages, which works directly with 39 developing countries around the world. Carly Fritner, the assistant manager of the Center City store, has been there since June and said she takes pride in her company’s relationships with poorer countries, such as Nepal.

Due to poor electricity generation methods, Nepali artisans are provided with only two to four hours of electricity per day. The limited supply of electricity limits their output of crafts, which in turn, limits their source of income.

“We want to pay them for all eight hours,” Fritner said. “Because that is what it takes to support a family.”

Sarah Leonard can be reached at

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