What is Fair Trade?
In short, fair trade is about doing things right.
It’s about addressing a global imbalance of power, and treating growers and artisans as equals. Fair trade stands for paying craftspeople and farmers a fair price, giving them direct access to markets, bypassing corrupt local businesses and shady government officials along the way. It’s about fighting discrimination, looking out for child welfare, and ensuring that artisans have access to the safe working conditions we all deserve, wherever we spend our days.
But just as much, it’s about giving artisans and growers a voice, and listening to that voice.
Fair trade began life as a messy, angry, and above all else, a moral reaction to trade injustice.
Back in the 1970s, people were settling down in front of the TV and for the first time witnessing a huge global imbalance. Beamed into their living rooms were scenes of famine across Africa, Apartheid in South Africa, guerilla uprisings and wars across South America – all while people in the West lived largely comfortable lives. You could ignore it if you wanted, but for a whole generation of young people it all seemed distinctly unfair.
How could it be right that there were traditional farmers fighting pitched battles with plantation owners and their governments for the right to farm their own lands?
Everyday people were even having to battle colonial powers over natural resources. What sort of world were we living in?
Young people then, just as now, recognised unfairness when they saw it, and they knew that something had to be done. This was true injustice. Across Europe, young people rebelled.
Some went on the streets to protest, some started radical political movements to fight the injustices at home, and some rejected the injustices at home altogether and began travelling the world to find their inner peace.
But some decided to put their anger into practical action. If, they argued, they could buy products from the downtrodden artisans and growers directly, they could give them back some power. They would treat the artisans as equals, guarantee that they would be paid a fair price, and by working with them directly, everyone could avoid the demands of unethical large businesses or corrupt government officials. Maybe this way, everyday people could fight back in a positive, life-affirming way.
And this was how fair trade (or as it was originally known – ‘alternative trade’) began.
Here in the UK, churches took a leading role by buying handicrafts directly from artisans in developing countries.
It was not long after that that the first containers of not particularly pleasant coffee from left-wing guerilla groups in Nicaragua started to hit Europe’s shores. Campaign Coffee may not have tasted all that good, but people drank it with gusto.
In 1979, Traidcraft was founded by one group of such activists in Newcastle upon Tyne. Their plan was to work in partnership with the artisans, and import and distribute fair trade goods, starting with fair trade jute from Bangladesh.
There were no labels, standards, or certification schemes then – just pioneers travelling the world, contacting small artisanal groups, buying their goods directly, and trying to make a world of difference.
And that’s how fair trade began – and that’s what we still believe in.
If you fancy helping us make a difference, feel free to join in.
It’s never too late to make a difference.
Interested to learn more about Traidcraft and fair trade labels?
Discover the story of how our solitary pioneering path branched out into the world of labels, and why we believe in a range of fair trade certifications, not just the one you’d expect…