Food Co-op Law

Interest in food cooperatives is growing, due both to increased interest in local, natural, and organic foods and to increased awareness of economic vulnerability in many of our communities.

More and more communities want the products, stability, and accountability that a cooperative can offer. The concept has been put in place in Haiti providing those same benefits.  “The Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP), the country’s largest peasant organization with over 60,000 members, unifies small farmers and rural peasants into farm or craft cooperatives, trains community leaders and conducts agroecological studies. According to a post by their international ally, Grassroots International, the MPP has recaptured 10,000 acres (40.5 sq kilometers) of arable land, planted over 20 million trees and created innovative barriers to mudslides such as stonewall terracing.” (Available at https://foodtank.com/news/2013/06/farming-cooperatives-in-haiti-a-chance-to-advance/).

Cooperatives are businesses owned by their members.

Joel Dahlgren of Black Dog Co-op Law encourages prospective members to incorporate themselves for a “shield” and to learn the relevant laws applicable in their state.

Dahlgren showcases four basic structures available to retail food cooperatives, the choice of which is generally driven by tax, financing, governance and corporate name considerations.

Dahlgren’s table below illustrates these considerations and compares four business structures.

 

 

Sources:

Joel Dahlgren, Legal Primer For Formation of Consumer-Owned Food Cooperatives, available at http://www.foodcoopinitiative.coop/sites/default/files/LegalPrimer.pdf.

(With contributions from Thane Joyal, Bill Gessner, Marilyn Scholl and Stuart Reid)

Publication was made possible through the financial support of Cooperative Development Services, CDS Consulting Co-op and Food Co-op Initiative; with additional funding provided by the USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant program, through a grant provided to Cooperative Development Services.

 

See Also Black Dog Co-op Law, http://joeldahlgren.blogspot.com/.

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Barriers to Business in Haiti

In a study completed by the World Bank in June 2015, Haiti has a new business density of 0.06. This translates to 383 new businesses created over the course of the year. Out of context, these figures mean very little. However, if we look to Haiti’s nearest neighbor, the Dominican Republic, we see that the Dominican Republic enjoys a new business density of 1.2 and 8,061 new businesses created. Why is this important? We know that entrepreneurship is one of the single biggest indicators of economic growth and power. And the intersection of new firm registration, the regulatory environment, and economic growth may lend credence to the voices that suggest there needs to be a focus not only on physical infrastructure, but also on legal, regulatory, and administrative infrastructures.

What stands in the way of new businesses that can create new jobs and spur the construction of physical infrastructure? Perhaps, one of the greatest and simplest areas of concern is the length of time to become formally incorporated. It takes an average of 97 days to register a new business in Haiti; seventy-eight of those days are simply to register the business with the Department of Commerce and receive an authorization of operations. The average time for new businesses to be operational in Latin America and the Caribbean is 29.4 days. In the Dominican Republic, the average time is 14.5 days. These comparisons are not an attempt to join the seemingly prevailing voices stating that Haiti cannot compete in or contribute to the world economy. These comparisons are made to bring attention to the areas (legal, regulatory, and administrative infrastructures), where innovation is needed to break the cycle of poverty in Haiti.

* This article was created using information from the wonderful World Bank Doing Business database. Any errors are my own.

 

 

Lovely Bonhomme Headshot-LG

 

Lovely  is a first-year student at CUNY School of Law, which graduates public interest attorneys with the motto of practicing “law in the service of human needs”. She is a first generation American of Haitian descent. She has a particular interest in corporate law with a focus on infrastructure and energy projects in emerging markets and developing countries. More broadly, she hopes to contribute to the areas of international rule of law and human rights. 

Comcast Brings Gains in Digital Literacy for Boston’s Haitian Community

Digital literacy is a pervasive problem in American society still, even though iPhones and other smart devices seem to be increasingly the norm. In particular, digital literacy is more of a problem in poorer communities, and communities with large immigrant populations. President Obama has pointed this out in July of 2015 with the ConnectHome initiative.

The ConnectHome Initiative seeks to “reach over 275,000 low-income households – and nearly 200,000 children – with the support they need to access the Internet at home.” This is certainly not just a federal program but also one that uses “[i]nternet Service Providers, non-profits and the private sector [to provide] . . . broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs, and devices for residents in assisted housing units.”

Seemingly, a program started by Comcast’s senior vice president, Steve Hackley, about three years ago in Boston, Massachusetts, was ahead of the game. As the story goes, Mr. Hackley spurred a relationship with a non-profit in an under-serviced area of Boston, with a large Haitian immigrant population when he bought lunch for his sales and marketing employee Bukia Louis Chalvire. Chalvire was head of a local non-profit called the Mattapan/Greater Boston Technology Learning Center, dedicated to the needs of the Haitian community. More specifically, Mattapan sought to “bridge the digital divide and bring technology to people in the community, many of whom did not have access to internet in their homes.”

After speaking to representatives from Comcast about the needs of the particularized needs of the Haitian community and Mattapan, an “enduring” partnership arose:

Today, Mattapan Tech annually offers free and low-cost training and job placement to about 1,200 adults of all ages from 14 ethnic backgrounds – about 40 percent with Caribbean heritage. As an Internet Essentials partner, Mattapan Tech has so far provided about 50 digital literacy training sessions for about 750 students. In addition, Comcast helped air public service announcements about Mattapan classes and the availability of Internet Essentials to the community.

Clearly, gains have been made towards the aims inherent in President Obama’s ConnectHome initiative, and the Haitian community has been among the winners.

To read more about Chalvire’s story and Comcast’s partnership click here for the original article.

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Magdala is a second year law student at the University of Illinois College of Law. She is the first generation of her family to be born in the United States!

International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)

The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID or the Centre) is established by the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (the ICSID Convention or the Convention). The Convention was formulated by the Executive Directors of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank). Haiti is one of the countries that have ratified the Convention to become Contracting States.

 

In accordance with the provisions of the Convention, ICSID provides facilities for conciliation and arbitration of investment disputes between Contracting States and nationals of other Contracting States. The provisions of the ICSID Convention are complemented by Regulations and Rules adopted by the Administrative Council of the Centre pursuant to Article 6(1)(a)–(c) of the Convention (the ICSID Regulations and Rules).

Haiti has been a contracting state since Jan. 30, 1985, paid its deposit of ratification on Oct. 27, 2009, and the convention entered into force for Haiti on Nov. 26, 2009.

As of Nov. 17, 2015, the convention has been entered into force by 152 states after depositing instruments of ratification.

Digicel Files Suit Against U.S. Firm

Digicel, one of Haiti’s most popular telecom providers, recently filed suit against a U.S. corporation, UPM. The relevant facts excerpted from the February 3, 2016 court order are as follows:

Digicel operates telephone switching systems in Miami, Florida, and New York City, New York, that route international calls from third-party providers (such as AT&T and Verizon) to Digicel customers in Haiti. The switching systems use an international gateway that allows Digicel to manage call routing and account for any billing and associated regulatory charges. Under Haitian law, international telephone carriers must charge at least 23 cents per minute for international calls terminating in Haiti. Accordingly, Digicel charges third-party providers at least 23 cents per minute to route international calls to Digicel customers in Haiti. UPM is an Oregon corporation that offers to route international calls to Haiti at lower rates than Digicel. UPM does so by purchasing large quantities of pre-paid Digicel Subscriber Identity Module (“SIM”) cards4 in Haiti, shipping the cards to UPM’s operations in Oregon, and incorporating the cards into a system connected to the internet. Digicel alleges that UPM sends money by international wire to its agents in Haiti for the purchase of Digicel SIM cards. According to Digicel, shipping documents show that agents shipped Digicel SIM cards from Haiti to Oregon, addressed to Defendant Benjamin Sanchez (“Sanchez”), Owner of UPM Marketing and President of UPM Telecom, and Defendant Tyler Allen (“Allen”), who is also affiliated with UPM. Customer forms also show that Defendant Baltazar Ruiz (“Ruiz”), Project Manager of UPM Telecom, shipped computer equipment to Haiti. Digicel asserts that Ruiz provided laptops, internet routers, and generators to co-conspirators in Haiti to facilitate UPM’s operations.

Unigestion Holding, S.A., UPM Technology Inc., No. 3:15-cv-00185-SI, 2016 WL 427068, at *2 (D. Or. filed Feb. 3, 2016). Digicel has alleged that UPM has engaged in about seven different prohibited acts, including the mail and wire fraud predicates to RICO and unjust enrichment. Two of the claims alleged against UPM were dismissed by a district court in Oregon, pursuant to a motion to dismiss filed by Digicel. Five claims remain.

 

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Magdala is a second-year law student at the University of Illinois College of Law. She is the first generation of her family to be born in the United States!