Fair Trade


Fair trade is an alternative way of doing business based on some fundamental criteria such as: 

  • guarantee the rights of workers;  
  • pay a fair price and a fair profit;  
  • respect the environment at all stages of the supply chain; 
  • guarantee continuous commercial relationship; 
  • help the producers become independent and autonomous in trading.  


In some ways, the origin of Fair Trade can be found since 1827 when some abolitionist members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Pennsylvania organized a moral and economic boycott of slave-derived goods and founded the "Free Produce Society". This new society aimed to fight against slavery with a new tactic – one that emphasized the value of the honest labor of free men and women, and to try to determine the unseen added costs of goods such as cotton and sugar, which came from the toil of slaves. Many additional supporters from other states joined the ‘Free Produce Society’, but the movement didn’t grow enough to gain benefits from the market and was dismantled in 1847.  

In 1897 The Salvation Army launched the Hamodava Tea Company. Hamodava pioneered a fair trade model that sought to pay fair prices to tea farmers, while also offering a scheme by which they could purchase plantation land on a co-operative, giving them financial independence. 

Fair Trade movement began to be known after World War II, and started officially in the United States, where Ten Thousand Villages (formerly Self Help Crafts) began buying needlework from Puerto Rico in 1946, and SERRV International (American 501(c)(3) no profit alternative trading organization) 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. The earliest traces of Fair Trade in Europe date from the late 1950s when Oxfam UK started to sell crafts made by Chinese refugees in Oxfam shops. In 1964, it created the first Fair Trade Organisation. Parallel initiatives were taking place in the Netherlands and in 1967 the importing organisation, Fair Trade Original, was established. In 1965 Oxfam launched "Helping-by-Selling" campaign. At the same time, Dutch organisations began to sell cane sugar with the message “by buying cane sugar you give people in poor countries a place in the sun of prosperity”. These groups went on to sell handcrafts from the South, and in 1969 the first “Third World Shop” opened. 

During the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 1968 in Delhi, the claim Trade Not Aid become the principle to develop economic relationship with producers from the south of the world in order to guarantee them the right prices for their products and encourage the development of their own production, seeking awareness and social rights.  

In the early days of fair trading, Fair Trade Organisations traded mostly with handcrafts producers, mainly because of their contact with missionaries. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, important segments of the fair trade movement worked to find markets for products from countries that were excluded from the mainstream trading channels for political reasons. Thousands of volunteers sold coffee from Angola and Nicaragua in World Shops, in the back of churches, from their homes and from stands in public places, using the products as a vehicle to deliver their message: give disadvantaged producers in developing countries a fair chance on the world's market, and you support their self-determined sustainable development. 2 At the 70’s Fair Trade organizations began the import of food products, opening new market and increasing their sales with new assortments in the shops. 

The Fair Trade movement came to being to raise awareness on trade injustices and imbalances of power in the conventional trade structures, and to advocate changes in policies to favour equitable trade. Sale points of Fair Trade products became one of the effective methods of campaigning. It was the Fair Trade shops that started including producer stories in product packaging to raise awareness on Fair Trade. World/Fair Trade Shops mobilised consumers to participate in campaigning activities for greater global justice. For 60 years, the Fair Trade movement has developed and has increased the type of products that are sold in the World Shops; it has even specialized in certifications that are specific for fair trade products. Moreover, there are international umbrella organizations that coordinate the networking between Fair Trade enterprises, mainly through campaigning and annual conferences (https://wfto.com/about-us/history-wfto/history-fair-trade )

The actors of fair trade are producers, mostly from the Global South or from disadvantaged areas, import centres, World Shops, and consumers that work together through free and collaborative relationships with the aim of disseminating the criteria of fair trade through daily actions. 

Fair trade is a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. Fair trade organizations support producers, raise awareness, and campaign for changes in the rules and practices of conventional international trade.  

Sustainability is one of the principles of fair trade, not only economic, but environmental, in terms of human and social rights, and growing of local communities.  

Some Fair Trade import and seller companies in Europe with products stemming from different supply chain, such as the Global South and Europe, are dealing with both fashion and food. They are members of the European Fair Trade Association (EFTA). 


100% Fair Trade Organization, importing, promoting and distributing fair trade and organic products since 1988 in Italy and Europe, represents the main Italian Fair Trade organisation and one of the largest in the world. Altromercato offers concrete opportunities to marginalized producers in international and national economies to enter the market with innovative, environmentally friendly, economically sustainable, and functional solutions. Altromercato has a continuous commercial and amicable relationship with about 140 producers in 40 countries (mostly in Africa, Asia, Latin America), that include more than 450 farmers and artisans. Altromercato spreads the principles and products of Fair Trade, promoting social change, especially through the network of World Shops, to promote greater and better equity in the rules and practices of international trade. Altromercato also carries out activities of education and promotion of Responsible Consumption and Solidarity Economy, through campaigns, events, involving the network of World Shops that are managed by cooperatives member of Altromercato. One of the objectives is to communicate the history of producers and products to let people know how all our choices can make a difference for a sustainable world. Altromercato sells both food and fashion products (https://www.altromercato.it/)


‘For more than 40 years, we have been going new ways as Fair Trade pioneers – serving the interests of our Southern partners. We offer help for self-help – this includes assistance to enter the local market. We are part of an international Fair Trade network: many people and organizations help to give trade a human face. 

Together with numerous committed people we have played an important role in shaping public awareness with regard to social production conditions, also those in Germany. Our trading partners are 131 cooperatives, marketing organizations and committed private enterprises in 45 countries of Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe. 

Long-term business relationships under fair conditions, long-standing and trustful cooperation as well as transparency at any level of our commercial chains are typical of our relationships with our partners. 

  • maintaining direct and long-term trading relationships on equal terms; 
  • achieving market access also for smaller producer organizations; 
  • paying fair prices for quality products and / or additional services rendered by our partners; 
  • prefinancing our orders on request in order to facilitate the purchase of raw materials and seeds; 
  • offering assistance and product development; 
  • avoiding unfair intermediate trade; 
  • caring for transparency of all our trading channels and activities.’ (https://www.gepa.de/en/welcome.html)


‘Traidcraft is the original fair trade pioneer in the UK - challenging the norm, fighting injustices and breaking rules for over four decades. We advocate the importance of organic farming, sustainability and transparency to the lives of growers and artisans around the world. We buy and sell fair trade. We are one of the leading, dedicated fair trade companies, in the UK and globally. We stock a huge range of ethical and fair trade foods, beverages, household cleaning and rubber products, as well as fair trade crafts and clothing. As much now as we did over 40 years ago, Traidcraft is changing peoples’ lives through trade. We aim to save vanishing, traditional skills from extinction and celebrate a world of creativity and culture, through quality, fair trade products. We bring their goods, from all over the world, to you; offering future-proof, fair trade food and drink, sustainable fashion, home and garden goods and handmade, ethical, fair trade gifts.’ (https://www.traidcraftshop.co.uk/)