The History of Fair Trade

The origination of Fair Trade can be traced back to the time after World War II.  Back then, Western European charities started with first supporting measures. In 1959, the first alternative, nonprofit-oriented trading organization was established in the Netherlands and in 1969 the first world shop, run by volunteers, opened, also in the Netherlands (Breukelen). Afterwards, many world shops opened rapidly in other western European countries as well as Germany. The product range at that time however was limited to handicraft products. Only in 1973, the first fair traded coffee was sold.

The concrete idea of “Fair Trade” developed from the political conflicts in the ‘60s. At that time, fair trade had been more and more perceived as a symbol against Neoimperialism. Back then, students started to massively criticize the business strategies of international affiliated groups. The worldwide model of free market economy had been increasingly attacked. People demanded the price to be directly connected with the actual costs and all producers to have the same rights to access the market. Based on this, the ideals of the Fair Trade originated. At that time, people also started to connect trading with political content by providing background information about the situation in the producing countries to the consumer. People also started to create markets for products from countries that had been isolated from world trade programs for political reasons. This way, several thousand volunteers sold coffee from Angola and Nicaragua back then.

Out of the necessity to modernize and broaden the world shops and to expand the idea of fair trade to also include agriculture, in the 80s many agricultural products, such as coffee, tea, dried fruits, cocoa, rice, spices and so on, have been added to the already established product range.

With the establishment of the first initiatives for Fair-Trade-Seals, the Fair Trade experienced an upswing. The first Fair-Trade-Logo (“Max Havellar”) was introduced by the Dutch organization Solidaridad. Consumers increasingly asked for a guarantee to unconditionally be able to trust the origin of the fair traded products. The introductions of Fair-Trade-Seals helped to better position the world shops and hence make them more accessible to the mass-market and at the same time more interesting for the consumer. Ever since then, various logos were established in the different countries. By now, several international Seal-organizations have been organized under the umbrella of the Fair Trade Labeling Organization International (FLO). This organization defines the international standards for Fair Trade and consolidates the different labels. It furthermore controls the producers and retailers, grants them support and help and is responsible to the certification. 

Nowadays, Fair Trade developed to be a serious option for the conventional trade and is by far not restricted to crafts and agricultural products anymore. By now, it has been expanded to also include industrial products (especially in the textile industry) and tourism. Fair Trade can be found anywhere where producers are being economically put at disadvantage or excluded and isolated from important world trade programs for political reasons.