Democracy Takes Practice

La Siembra Worker-Owners Host Annual General Meeting, Participate in Canadian Worker Cooperative Federation Conference

Camino chocolates are made from fair trade organic cocoa and sugar grown by democratically organized small scale farmers. La Siembra Co-operative, the Canadian makers of Camino, is a worker-owned organization dedicated to providing farmers and consumers with fair trade chocolates and other foods. The quote from Frankie Pondolph, an Equal Exchange Action Forum leaders, wonderfully summarizes the hopes and work before us as we build our co-op and the market for authentic fair trade in Canada.

“In an attempt to build a democratic food system which is truly transformative, it is not enough to focus on the buying and selling of a product; likewise, for true change to occur, involvement can not begin and end with a purchase. Voting with your dollar is not enough. Democracy takes effort, commitment, collective responsibility, and passion. It is not always easy; is definitely not straightforward; but it is necessary if we want to create a better world.”

– Frankie Pondolph

As an Ontario-based co-operative, La Siembra is required to hold an Annual General Meeting to provide members the chance to elect the Board of Directors, review the auditied financial statements, and select the financial auditor for the co-operative. As a worker-owned co-operative dedicated to fair trade, we complete these tasks and expand on the event to discuss the year past and look forward. At this year’s AGM, we dedicated several hours to a complex and interesting topic – what is the role of certification systems in building support for our mission?

At the La Siembra AGM, members analyzed Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Surronded by several tons of fabulous fair trade organic chocolate, of course!

For this topic, we brought in thought leader and Fair World Project Executive Director Dana Geffner. Ms. Geffner provided an analyze of the various fair trade certification systems, of which we currently use two – SPP and FLO – on Camino foods. Our group then discussed the dimensions of fair trade certification systems, especially the impact on farmers, awareness among consumers, the governance models of each system, and how competitors utilize and access the certification.

Sitting in our newly completed warehouse at 250 City Centre, our members had time to reflect that we have achieved many important initiatives in the past few years. All members have visited and worked with farmers at least once in the past three years. We reduced the cumulative deficit of the co-operative by half in that same time frame. We opened our own warehouse and negotiated a long-term memorandum of understanding with our sister organization Equal Exchange.

The newly elected Board of Directors. From left to right, Brian Albert, Josiane Paquet, Amber St. Louis, and Martin Van Den Borre

La Siembra adopted the worker-owner model so that the same principles of democracy, transparency, and care for people which we expect in the farmers groups we buy from are reflected in our workplace. Of course, a democratic company means we get to vote, and vote we did. Our members elected a new Board of Directors. We voted to approve the audited financial statements. We voted to select a financial auditor for the coming financial year. We voted on the minutes from last year’s meeting. We even voted to end the meeting and go enjoy a dinner to reflect on a year well-spent.

Building democracy means supporting the greater worker-cooperative community, too. Just like we have each of the past four years, La Siembra participated in the annual conference of the Canadian Federation of Worker Co-operatives (CWCF). This organization was founded in 1991 to build a Co-operative Economy, support the development of new worker co-ops, and represent the Canadian worker co-op movement in Canada and internationally. The annual conference is a great opportunity to share successes (and failures), and learn from sister co-ops about the best practices.
Two representatives of La Siembra participated in this year’s conference. Both are candidates for worker-ownership in La Siembra, so the event provided an opportunity for each to learn about the functionings and governance of worker co-ops.

Photos of prior CWCF Conferences, courtesy of

Imran Kaderdina, our Bookkeeper, was on the panel about employee review systems at the Conference. He noted, Meeting different worker co-operatives who also engage in democratic decision-making was really illuminating. We had an opportunity to discuss what has worked and what hasn’t, and collectively come up with ideas to improve our respective cooperatives. I think few other businesses work together to see each other succeed and improve the conditions of their workers and their communities as we see with co-operatives.”

Taylor Eby, who moves tons of fair trade Camino chocolate food each day as the Warehouse Clerk, said of the event, It was really great engaging with such a variety of co-operatives from across the country. It’s heartening to see so many passionate folks organizing their workplaces to be more equitable spaces where every member’s voice is valued.”



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