Fair Trade Towns Innovator

Courtney Lang August 29, 2009
Hal Taussig, Initiator of the First Fair Trade Town campaign in the USA

Hal Taussig, Started the First Fair Trade Town Campaign in the USA

by Guest Blogger Elizabeth Killough

At 85 years young, Hal Taussig is the initiator of the Fair Trade Towns movement in the USA. A Colorado rancher for the first 33 years of his life, Hal moved on to become a college professor and in his early 50’s, started his unique travel company, Untours. Untours sets up a travel agenda that allows customers to “live like a local”, experiencing cultures instead of zooming through them. Named a “best bet” by Frommers, Untours, like Hal, has a loyal and growing following. Untours is also proud to be the first “B Corp”.

As Untours grew, Hal realized that he had no desire to accumulate personal wealth. He made a personal resolution to be a responsible steward, using his financial resources to promote social and economic justice. He tried a lot of models for this, including his first; he refunded an entire year’s profits to some very surprised clients. Many thought he was crazy, but everyone cashed their checks! In another experiment in philanthropy he paid all of his employees the same monthly wage, and at the end of the year, divided all profits equally between his them. Finally, in 1992 Hal created the Untours Foundation, and ever since nearly all of Untour’s after-tax profits have gone to the foundation.

Fair Trade fits beautifully with the foundation’s agenda of creating jobs, empowering low wealth communities, and being mindful of Mother Earth every step of the way. Hal’s foray into Fair Trade began in the late ‘90’s when he traveled to Chiapas, Mexico, to purchase coffee from a co-op. Two run-in’s with the military and para-military and two shipping containers later, Hal was supporting fairly traded coffee. When Paul Rice came to Hal a few years later raising funds to launch TransFair USA, Hal enthusiastically signed up.

In 2005, Hal turned to his foundation colleagues and suggested that they make Media, PA, a Fair Trade Town. The first response was laughter, but they decided to go along for the ride, and what a ride it has been! The town of Media was quick to rise to the occasion and in 2006 became the first Fair Trade Town in the USA. Hal soon connected with the international community and attended the First International Fair Trade Towns Conference in London. Currently, his Fair Trade steering committee meets weekly for an hour, and continues to do amazing things for the community and Fair Trade, including hosting Fair Trade Live ’08, which was attended by 5,000 people.

Businesses selling Fair Trade items are part of the Untours Foundation’s loan portfolio. But it is through Fair Trade Towns and the development of a strong consumer base that Hal anticipates reaching the “tipping point” for Fair Trade. In the meantime, Hal can be spotted riding his bike to work each day. He is embarrassed to be honored by Equal Exchange as the namesake of their first-ever celebrity brew, Hal’s Blend, but his Untours staff is thrilled!

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Courtney Lang, National Organizer | Fair Trade Campaigns

Courtney Lang brings over 5 years of community organizing to Fair Trade Towns USA, building both the Local Food and Fair Trade networks in Vermont. As Local Food Coordinator with City Market/Onion River Cooperative, Courtney worked with local producers, institutions and consumers to grow the local food system and organize a strategic model for community engagement through farm tours, workshops, and local food challenges. Like many in the Fair Trade industry, Courtney was inspired to take action in Fair Trade when she witnessed child-labor first hand in Costa Rica. As a founding member of Fair Trade Burlington, she has worked with economic development organizations, businesses, and consumers to build awareness of Fair Trade among Vermonters. She also worked with a Fair Trade USA licensee, Vermont Coffee Company, as Friend Ambassador where she united the story of Fair Trade to every purchase of coffee.