History of Fair Trade

How did Fair Trade begin?

How did Fair Trade begin?

Edna Ruth BylerThe Fair Trade movement began back in 1946 when a woman named Edna Ruth Byler began importing needlecrafts from low income women in South America. She laid the groundwork for the first Fair Trade organization, the Mennonite Central Committee. Closely followed by SERRV International, in 1949, both organizations had a goal to develop fair trade supply chains in developing countries. The products were almost exclusively handicrafts sold by volunteers in “Charity Stores” or “Ethnic Shops”.  

The modern fair trade movement began in the United States and really took shape in Europe in the 1960s and quickly gained popularity. A movement built on a approach to Trade not Aideconomies where price is directly linked to the actual production costs and where all producers are given fair and equal access to the markets. The slogan, “Trade not  Aid”, gained international recognition by 1968.

Max HavelaarThe first Fair Trade Label, “Max Havelaar”, was founded in 1988. This independent certification allowed the goods to be sold outside Worldshops (Fair Trade Shops) and into the mainstream, reaching a larger consumer segment and boosting fair trade sales significantly. This also allowed customers and distributors alike to track the origin of the goods to confirm that the products were really benefiting the producers at the end of the supply chain.

The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), formerly the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT), was created in 1989, and the Fair Trade (FTF), formally known as the North American Trade Organization (NAATO) was formed in the late 1970s when individual alternative trade organizations began holding yearly conferences for groups working in fair trade. Both groups followed the internationally recognized Fair Trade principles of fair wage, gender equality, long-term relationships, concern for the environment, democratic decision making, safe working conditions, respect for culture, and prohibition of child exploitation.

Fair Trade USA, formally known as TransFair opened it’s first “National Headquarters” in 1998 as is now the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States. In 2002 Fairtrade International (FLO), launched the international “FairTrade” certification mark. These two groups are currently the two main organizations that certify Fair Trade products and the Fair Trade Federation is the main network of organizations in North America fully committed to Fair Trade.

The first fair trade agricultural products were coffee and tea. This was quickly followed by dried fruits, cocoa, sugar, rice, grains, spices and nuts. But it was coffee that quickly became the main growth engine behind fair trade, claiming up to 50% of the total alternative trading organization turnover in 2005.

So, where are we now?

The availability of Fair Trade products have expanded well beyond needlecrafts and coffee to include chocolate, sugar, rice, quinoa, fresh fruit, flowers and a wide variety of jewelry, housewares and apparel. We now see Fair Trade products at Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Whole Foods and other large retailers. Even fast-food merchants like McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts now sell Fair Trade Coffee. You would be surprised at how often you have a Fair Trade option when making a purchase.

According to Fairtrade International, by 2008, products certified by FLO amounted to approximately $4.98 billion worldwide, a 22% year-to-year increase. Although this represents only a tiny fraction of world trade in physical merchandise, over 7.5 million producers and their families were benefiting from fair trade funded infrastructure, technical assistance and community development projects.

New data from Fair Trade USA reveals that the organization had another record setting year for coffee. Over 138 million pounds of Fair Trade Certified coffee were imported into the United States, a 32 percent increase over 2010. This growth in imports enabled Fair Trade coffee cooperatives to earn an unprecedented $17 million in community development premiums, up 61 percent from 2010. Since Fair Trade USA began operations in 1998, cooperatives have earned over $225MM in additional income through a combination of community development premiums and better prices.

The past eight years have seen the rise of entire towns committed to raise awareness of Fair Trade, beginning with Media, Pennsylvania in 2006 to Healdsburg as the 24th town in Sept 2011. There are now currently 32 Fair Trade Towns in the U.S. including San Francisco, Berkeley, and Chico and over 1100 Fair Trade Towns across 18 countries!

The Fair Trade economy is based on justice, dignity and respect for people and the planet. We all have a choice when we make a purchase and I encourage you to think about yours. One World Fair Trade exists to create opportunity, equality, respect culture and vision a future where trade is fair.

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