The early history of Fair Trade is linked to Christian faith-based groups, as it is they who originated this movement.
Most people agree that it all started in the United States. What is now Ten Thousand Villages and other associations first sold handcrafts made by disfavored people in the 1940s.
To be more specific, it is credited to Edna Ruth Byler to be the first Fair Trader. By 1940 she was volunteering in her Mennonite community and traveled to Puerto Rico; she met there some women living in poverty who were able to produce a quality linen needlework. Six years later, she herself, along with her colleague Ruth Lederach, took some items to a Mennonite world conference in Switzerland and sold them there, becoming the first persons to actually trade fairly.
For a number of years she sold the needlework from the trunk of her car, devoting her time and energy to this cause. Their first shop was opened in Akron (Pennsylvania, U.S.A) back in 1958.
Later on, in 1968, this activity became "SELFHELP: Crafts of the world" and opened the first american World Shop in Bluffton (Ohio, U.S.A.) in 1972. They became financially self-sufficient and some years later, in 1996, changed their name to Ten Thousand Villages, which still keeps blooming nowadays.
|A producer in Nicaragua. Photo from CRS|
Here in Europe, Oxfam was created after World War II to relief hunger to refugees; the name comes as an acronym of Oxford Committee for Famine Relief. Oxfam Trading started to operate in 1964 and later became the Fair Trade branch of this NGO. Now Oxfam is a large organization with lots of branches in many countries. They have created a fantastic "brand" image with their distinctive light green color and impacting campaigns.
Just to highlight major milestones:
|1946||In United States, founders of what is now "Ten Thousand Villages" organization buy needlework from Puerto Rico producers and sell them in their USA homeland|
|1958||The first World Shop opens its doors in Ohio, United States|
|1969||The first european World Shop opens in Breukelen, the Netherlands|
|1989||The first Fair Trade certified label, "Max Havelaar", is issued in the Netherlands|
|Coffee starts as a Fair Trade good|
|1990||Creation of EFTA, European Fair Trade Association|
|1994||Creation of NEWS! (Network of European World Shops), an association of Fair Trade shops|
|1997||Creation of FLO, Fairtrade Labelling Organization, made by the merge of Max Havelaar, Transfair and Fair Trade|
|1999||During the WTO meeting at Seattle (USA), three Global Exchange members are arrested by police while they were addressing the attendees|
|2000||Garstang (Lancashire, UK) becomes the first Fairtrade town in the world. Now, some other 250 have followed|
|2007||The three major Fair Trade producer organizations become part of the governance structure of FLO|
|First Fair Trade franchise business becomes available in the United Kingdom|
As for the term Fair Trade itself, it was first used by Michael Barratt Brown in 1985, during a Trade and Technology Conference in London, altough during the early days some other names existed: "Alternative trade", "Alternative commerce"... and some of them are still in use.
The history of Fair Trade certification labels goes back to 1989, when a sharp crisis on coffee prices pushed growers to poverty in spite of being producing a nice coffee, well above average quality. By then, the dutch organization Max Havelaar was working with them, on Chiapas (southern Mexico), and father Franz Vandelhoff had the idea of differentiating that coffee, charging the final customer a little more, cutting off the middlemen and providing farmers a fair wage. The Fair Trade certified label was born.
OK, enough about the history of Fair Trade, you may wish have a look at its future.
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