Fair Trade: A Short, Yet Meaningful, History
The onset of fair trade is a mythology in itself, as people continue to debate who started it and where. Suffice to say, all great ideas are a product of their environment, and it's not farfetched to think that more than one person can be having the same lightbulb moment at any given time.
Conventional wisdom claims that fair trade started in the United States in the late 1940s, when the company Ten Thousand Villages started buying and importing traditional needle craft work from Puerto Rico. The parallel European movement took off in the late 1950s, with OxfamUK purchasing items like sugarcane and coffee from Chinese refugees.
This era was not only the start of mobilizing sales, but also the beginning of mobilizing a generation through awareness of the issues surrounding labor and wage equity. At the time, fair trade worked to campaign against big business producers while simultaneously advocating for independent workers and artisans.
NGOs and the Route to "Trade, Not Aid"
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) found ways to support communities caught in the midst of economic, political and environmental disaster, all by buying items at the market price and ensuring a steady stream of supply and demand. The focus lay on traditional crafts and produce being moved from the southern hemisphere to the more economically stable north. The positive impact these initatives had on communities as a whole, and on women and children in particular (these demographics suffer the most in cultures where women are discouraged from having their own access to finances), cannot be ignored.
The 1968 United Nations Conference in Trade and Development in Delhi proved to be the start of the slogan “Trade, Not Aid." This phrase highlighted the ability that trade has in assisting disadvantaged people in respectful, motivating and empowering ways. It also showcased the fact that aid has the capacity to alleviate immediate suffering, but potentially keeps the receiver bound to the giver in a cycle of dependance, with neither side benefiting in the long run.
The Birth of the Labelling System
During the early 1980s, fair trade products were predominantly sold through world shops. These were places where the range of products was typically limited, but each one would be undoubtedly fair trade. By the end of the decade, this model had been altered. An initiative led by a Dutch missionary NGO that sold coffee proved to be the start of the fair trade logo and labelling system.
This meant that products, the foremost at that time being coffee, could sport the fair trade label (and, of course, the belief system that accompanied it) amongst an extensive range of similar products in the average grocery store or supermarket. Ultimately, this added a new dimension of consumer responsibility, global connectivity and social justice to the weekly shopper's agenda.
A Modern Evolution for Fair Trade History
Through the last decade of the millenium and into the start of a new one, fair trade has continued to evolve. As a whole, the fair trade movement has put in place various labeling structures as well as new ways to monitor and validate products for companies seeking to work within the industry's ethos. The movement remains unwavering in its advocacy for social justice and equity in business for all.
In 2013, the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) formalized the Guarantee System (GS), a method used to confer fair trade status to a company rather than a product. This model is currently in use and will continue to be so, at least until changing economic, social and buying need necessitates that it is superseded by a more appropriate and useful system. To us, that's one of the many beauties of fair trade: its malleability and its willingness to evolve with the workers and crafters for whom it serves.
Know the Logo, Understand the Action, Buy Into the Evolution
At GGL, we are thankful for the people of this world who care about the source of and journey for their products. This dogma of kindness and awareness is truly what allows fair trade to thrive. As a whole, fair trade can be considered a movement more than a brand, a concept more than a sales pitch and a way of life more than a price point.
From fruit to felt, gold to ginger, Fair Trade is applicable to more products than the average consumer may realize. Moreover, it can make a world of difference for you and your family, your global neighbors and the future generations who follow your path.
The three beliefs at the core of fair trade are as follows:
- There is a direct and unbroken thread of connection between the producer and the consumer.
- The world's typical style of economics, manufacture and consumption has been and continues to be a major cause of the unequal distribution of wealth in the world, and Fair Trade is capable of combatting that.
- Fair trade ensures that everyone involved in the manufacturing process pays a fair price and creates a consistent purchasing schedule. This provides the basis for a positive, respectful and empowering model of behavior. It engenders greater internal response-ability and sustainability for individuals and communities, enabling them to move away from more traditional methods of charity and aid giving.
Where is Fair Trade Now? Where is it Going?
By making the WFTO member and product producer the point of reference for fair trade approval, rather than the individual product itself, the organization can easily and accurately verify the fair trade status of a product. This enables companies of all sizes to cater to changing market needs and trends, allowing them to shift their focus as quickly as necessary while still retaining their valuable status.
Over the past 60 years, this global movement has changed the face of conventional big business. Through holding big business accountable and highlighting a need for social responsibility to its producers and manufacturers, fair trade has elevated small, marginalized businesses to a new level. The equitable fair trade arena has proven itself to be politically and socially viable. Ultimately, it gives hope, respect and dignity to millions of people across the world.
This is why we, at GGL, believe in the power of fair trade, its constant progression and its dynamic, person-centered evolution. And this is why we hope you believe in it too.