Like many of you, my relationship with fair trade began with coffee. Since then, I’ve gone from buying fair trade whenever possible to starting my own fair trade business, Noah’s Gifts and Gallery. Despite my long relationship with and support for fair trade I didn’t know much about its history. I took the time recently to visit The World Fair Trade Organization’s website where their short history of Fair Trade section, outlines the beginnings of fair trade and how it became the widespread movement it is today.
Where did it all begin?
…It all started in the United States, where Ten Thousand Villages (formerly Self Help Crafts) began buying needlework from Puerto Rico in 1946, and SERRV began to trade with poor communities in the South in the late 1940s. The first formal “Fair Trade” shop which sold these and other items opened in 1958 in the USA.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and socially motivated individuals in many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America perceived the need for fair marketing organisations, which would provide advice, assistance and support to disadvantaged producers. Many such Southern Fair Trade Organisations were established, and links were made with the new organisations in the North. These relationships were based on partnership, dialogue, transparency and respect. The goal was greater equity in international trade.
Parallel to this citizens’ movement, the developing countries were addressing international political fora such as the second UNCTAD conference (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) in Delhi in 1968, to communicate the message “Trade not Aid.” This approach put the emphasis on the establishment of equitable trade relations with the South, instead of seeing the North appropriate all the benefits and only returning a small part of these benefits in the form of development aid.