Early Beginnings
     The basis of fair trade can be traced back to the late 1940s, when churches in North America and Europe started to import handicrafts from impoverished areas in order to aid refugees and communities (transfair.org). In the United States, Ten Thousand Villages was (and still is) a part of this movement—they began, in 1946, by selling needlepoint imported from Puerto Rico. The first “Fair Trade Shop” opened in the U.S. in 1958.
     Fair Trade in Europe dates back to the 1950s when Oxfam UK began selling crafts made by Chinese refugees in their shops. Then, in 1964, Oxfam created the first Fair Trade Organization. A similar initiative was taking place in Holland and in 1967 another importing organizatio n, Fair Trade Original, was established. In 1969, the first Fair Trade shop opened in Europe.

Forming Partnerships
     Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and individuals in countries such as Asia, Africa, and Latin America saw the need for marketing organizations that would not only sell products, but also offer advice, assistance, and support to producers in poor communities. These groups formed what are known as Southern Fair Trade Organizations and began partnerships with similar organizations in the North. The relationships formed were the basis of fair trade today. They were based on “partnership, dialogue, transparency and respect. The goal was greater equity in international trade” (wfto.com).

International Recognition and Policy
     At the same time that the Southern Fair Trade groups were forming partnerships with the North, they were also seeking political action and addressing the international audience. At the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Delhi in 1968, these groups spread the message “Trade not Aid.” This message is the core idea of Fair Trade—it is an equitable partnership between rich countries and countries that need aid.

CRS Fair Trade Coffee delegation photos taken in Matagalpa, Nicaragua


Max Havelaar: The Certification Pioneer
     The birth of fair trade certification was in response to the sharp descent in world coffee prices in 1988. The initiative was branded “Max Havelaar,” after a fictional Dutch man who opposed the exploitation of coffee pickers in Dutch colonies (transfair.org). Holland’s Max Havelaar label gave the mainstream coffee industry the option to adopt a standardized set of Fair Trade criteria.
     In 1997, Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) brought together Max Havelaar with its international counterparts. According to their website, “FLO is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder association involving 23 member organizations (Labelling Initiatives and Producer Networks), traders and external experts” (fairtrade.net). The organization has representation in 19 countries across the world.

Certified Fair Trade Today
     One of FLO’s member organizations, TransFair USA, began certifying coffee in 1999. Today, TransFair also sells tea and cocoa to the American market. In Europe, Fair Trade products include tea, chocolate, bananas, sugar, honey, and orange juice.

A comparison of Fair Trade logos: FLO's is in blue and green above, TransFair USA's is to the left in black and white.





Fair Trade Logo