Fair Trade History and the History of Traidcraft

Celebrating Over 40 Years of Traidcraft 

Traidcraft is the original fair trade pioneer in the UK, challenging the norm, fighting injustices and breaking rules for over four decades.

We were founded back in 1979, when we published our first hand-drawn catalogue, showcasing jute handicrafts from Bangladesh. The range quickly expanded to include food items from around the world. In 1989 we became founding members of the World Fair Trade Organisation and in 1992, we co-founded the Fairtrade Foundation. We've been going strong ever since, advocating the importance of organic farming, sustainability and transparency to the lives of growers, producers and artisans around the world. 

Over the past 40 years, we have pioneered the introduction of fair trade chocolate, coffee, tea, fruit juice, wine, rice, honey, charcoal, rubber… even sustainably-grown fair trade palm oil, FairPalm! Believe it or not, almost everything that we know today as being fair trade began with Traidcraft.

By now, you might have already spent some time exploring our carefully curated collection of hand-crafted, ethical gifts, homeware, fashion, award-winning drinks and hand-harvested foods – all sourced from fair trade co-operatives, traditional artisans and small-scale growers around the world.

But just how did we get to where we are today? Where did it all start? Go on, grab a cup of your favourite fair trade tea, put your feet up, and let us tell you a story.

1970

In 1970, a typhoon swept across what was then known as East Pakistan, devastating homes and claiming over half a million lives. The world watched as the aftermath unfolded, with political upheavals, conflict, and the birth of an independent Bangladesh. World development charity Tearfund started to deliver relief to the Bangladeshi people, and in 1974, Richard Adams established a trading arm (Tearcraft) and filled a returning charter aircraft with jute handicrafts, all with the aim of helping the people with trade, as well as aid. Tearcraft made a real difference to the lives of artisans, but Richard soon felt constrained by what the organisation could achieve.

1979

In the summer of 1979, Richard gathered six radical free-thinkers on the top floor of a 1920s warehouse in Newcastle upon Tyne, to launch his new vision – the beginnings of what would become a world-changing fair trade organisation. Their first handicrafts catalogue was hand-drawn, and featured a selection of what we’d think of today as rather retro jute plant hangers, baskets and rugs, all sourced from small co-operatives across Bangladesh.  It was, however, a sensational hit. Encouraged, the team started importing the world’s first fair trade tea, coffee, sugar, and chocolate, too. Traidcraft’s future was set.

By founding their own trading company, this movement of radical, church-based individuals had committed themselves to proving that fair trade could work professionally. Their plan was simple – they would import goods directly from artisans and growers and distribute them directly to ordinary consumers in the UK, cutting out the middlemen. They would start by selling on church stalls and at markets, where they thought that shoppers would be interested in the stories behind their purchases. At the time, this was revolutionary thinking, and just the beginning of the incredible changes ahead. A step into the future of making capitalism fair. 

World trade has always been dominated by a handful of huge global companies whose names rarely appear on packaging. As of today, just five companies control about 85% of the world’s cocoa trade, and the same sort of percentages exist in most of the everyday commodities we enjoy.

So, as you can imagine, options for the honest, small-scale coffee bean grower were incredibly limited. Traidcraft at this point provided the growers with the opportunity to sell their beans directly to consumers, while paying the farmers more than the usual market price. Traidcraft sought out small-scale and community growers and traditional craftspeople whose lives depended on their skills, and struggled to match what the big companies demanded. Their partnership with Traidcraft was going to be life changing.

But they wanted to do even more. The team wanted to get to know the farmers, understand their needs, their dreams and their ambitions. What we understand today as the principles of fair trade all started with pioneers like Traidcraft — who dared to travel around the world and listen to the people whose products we all take for granted. As time went by, Traidcraft focused on working with the producers to improve the quality of their products. The artisans and farmers could now be even more proud of what they’d made and grown. Fair trade was categorically not about aid. Since its inception, Traidcraft has been helping farmers, producers and communities from around the globe – it’s about respecting the artisan and the consumer together.

1986

Our ever-expanding team founded our sister charity (Traidcraft Exchange) in 1986. Since then, Traidcraft Exchange has since worked tirelessly to make sure that the UK Government rules against the worst extremes of corporate abuse.

1989

We co-founded the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), whose guarantee system is the only international verification model focused on social enterprises that puts the interests of workers, farmers, artisans and the planet first. The WFTO is an international system which brings makers, growers and buyers together in a forum for learning. We’re proud to be current, active members of WFTO. It’s the work and achievements of all of its members that make WFTO a global authority on fair trade to this day.

1992

In 1992, Traidcraft jointly founded the Fairtrade Foundation and helped establish the standards that underpin today's well-known Fairtrade Mark. Getting big companies to adapt to the principles of fair trade hasn't been easy, but we have been instrumental in making this happen.

2013

It was due to the determination of our campaigns team in 2013 that the government setting up an official supermarket watchdog, the Grocery Adjudicator, with the legal power to fine supermarkets who pressured their suppliers into unethical or harmful situations.

2019

2019 saw Traidcraft hit a landmark birthday – we turned 40! To celebrate four decades of fighting for trade justice, we hosted a huge thanksgiving service in Newcastle Cathedral, just steps away from where it all began in 1979. We signed the Coffee Transparency Pledge in 2019, making 100% of our coffee costs transparent and public, as well as launching a limited-edition anniversary range of products to coincide with our big birthday, and even boycotted Black Friday for the first time later in the year.

2020 and beyond

You’ll notice that transparency is one of our core values here at Traidcraft – it’s ingrained into everything we do and each decision we make. This is why in January 2020, we launched our rule breaking Transparent Coffee. This coffee publishes publicly (on the front of the packet, for all to see) exactly how much farmers are paid, how much goes into shipping, roasting and packing and how much profit we make – making our coffee the first in the world, to our knowledge, to do this. Later that year, we made the costs of our full range of Traidcraft-branded products, 100% transparent, making this the very first, 100% transparent movement.

Traidcraft is proving that once you’re committed to doing trade justly, there’s no going back. We’re the original fair trade pioneers and will always be at the forefront of this movement. Whilst still pioneering the future of fair trade, we have trade, social and environmental justice at the heart of every decision we make. We believe that transparency is key in achieving economic justice, which is why you can expect more and more transparency from us in the future. Watch this space. Our work is far from done…