Guest Author - Rebecca M. Cuevas De Caissie
Fair Trade was born of a trade relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico. Being an active part of the health conscious and environmental community I knew about fair trade but it wasn’t until I began researching Hispanic Culture that I learned of its origins. Some people say that the Americans were first with Ten Thousand Villages (formerly Self Help Crafts) who began buying needlework from Puerto Rico in 1946, and SERRV who began to trade with poor communities in the South in the late 1940s. The first formal "Fair Trade" shop which sold these and other items opened in 1958 in the USA.
As I studied I learned that the growth of Fair from the late 60s onwards has been associated primarily with development trade which directly impacted the impoverished underclass of Latin America. It grew as a response to poverty and sometimes disaster in the South and focused on the marketing of craft products. Its founders were often the large development and sometimes religious agencies in European countries. These NGOs, working with their counterparts in countries in the Latin America, assisted to establish Southern Fair Trade Organizations that organize producers and production, provide social services to producers, and export to the North. Alongside the development trade there was also a branch of solidarity trade. Organizations were set up to import goods from progressive countries in the South that were both politically and economically marginalized.
At the beginning, Fair Trade Organizations traded mostly with handcrafts producers, mainly because of their contacts with missionaries. Often, crafts provide "supplementary income" to families; they are of crucial importance to households headed by women who have limited employment opportunities. Most of the Northern Fair Trade Organizations focused on buying these crafts and sold them through World Shops. The market for crafts through these World shops was wide open and for many Fair Trade Organizations sales grew and grew!
In 1973, Fair Trade Organisatie in the Netherlands imported the first "fairly traded" coffee from cooperatives of small farmers in Guatemala. Now, almost 30 years later, Fair coffee has become a concept. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of coffee farmers have benefited from Fair Trade in coffee. And in Europe more and more consumers drink fair coffee. Right now between 25 to 50 % of turnover of Northern Fair Trade Organizations comes from this product.
After coffee, the food range was expanded and it now includes products like tea, cocoa, sugar, tea, wine, fruit juices, nuts, spices, rice, etc. Previously without the advent of Fair Trade, farm owners were the very wealthy where the workers were impoverished and often times nomadic. Many people of the lower classes in South and Central America were removed from their lands and made homeless. Many of these people were indigenous and lacking in education and money. Food products enable Fair Trade Organizations to open new market channels, such as institutional market, supermarkets, bio shops. It also allowed for these minority groups to produce a wage that was fair and allowed them to live a life affording some basic comforts.
In the 1980s, a new way of reaching the broad public was developed. A priest working with smallholder coffee farmers in Mexico and a collaborator of a Dutch church-based NGO conceived the idea of a Fair Trade label. Products bought, traded and sold respecting Fair Trade conditions would qualify for a label that would make them stand out among ordinary products on store shelves, and would allow any company to get involved in Fair Trade. In 1988, the "Max Havelaar" label was established in The Netherlands. The concept caught on: within a year, coffee with the label had a market share of almost three percent.
In the ensuing years, similar non-profit Fair Trade labeling organizations were set up in other European countries and in North America.
To see items offered by Ten Thousand Villages or to learn more about fair trade go to www.tenthousandvillages.com to visit their website. To read about the personal stories of women who have benefited from the positive effects of fair trade please see our next article due for release next week.