Celebrating 20 years of Fairtrade International

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On Fairtrade International’s anniversary, we look back on what we’ve all achieved so far, and look forward to building the Fairtrade of the future.

Founded in 1997 as the umbrella organisation for Fairtrade worldwide, Fairtrade International plays a pivotal role in setting international Fairtrade Standards and bringing together farmers and workers, producer networks and national Fairtrade organisations to drive the global Fairtrade strategy.

What started as a group of Mexican farmers fighting for a fairer price for their coffee developed into a worldwide movement for change. The first Fairtrade-labelled coffee appeared in Dutch supermarkets in 1988, other products such as tea and chocolate soon followed. The notion that placing everyday products in your supermarket basket could help tackle poverty in developing countries caught the public’s imagination. Today, Fairtrade products are on sale in more than 135 countries.

“At the beginning very few businesses took us seriously,” recalls Dieter Overath, who has been Director of Fairtrade Germany since its inception 25 years ago. “The success of Fairtrade was only possible through the tireless efforts of the civil society movement, and some dogged determination. Now Fairtrade is no longer a niche concept – and sustainability is on every company’s agenda.”

One of Fairtrade’s core principles is enabling farmers and workers to determine their own development, from democratic decision-making in how to invest the Fairtrade Premium, to inputting on Fairtrade Standards, right through to representation in the highest levels of Fairtrade governance. This was taken to a new level in 2013 when producers became co-owners of the Fairtrade system.

“Producers achieving co-ownership is for me the most memorable moment,” says Marike de Peña, Chair of the Latin-American producer network, CLAC. “From then on we started having much more equal debates and decision-making.”

This decision making was in action again in Bonn last week, when 11 producer representatives took part in the annual General Assembly and had their say about the future direction of Fairtrade.

Dao Tich Thi Tuyen, a coffee farmer and member of the Hop Tac co-operative in Vietnam says “I used to be a poor farmer from the North, but I came here, worked hard and had a better life. My life is much better since my cooperative joined Fairtrade. I earn a stable income and I share my wealth with the community using our Premium.”

Though we are proud of our achievements over the past 20 years, Fairtrade remains far from achieving its ambitious goal of a world where trade can be a true tool of opportunity and inclusion for all. The global landscape has also changed significantly. That’s why Fairtrade continues to adapt, evolve and innovate. Recent examples include: 

Leading Fairtrade International into its third decade is recently appointed CEO, Dario Soto Abril, who is enthusiastic about the expanding opportunities for Fairtrade to increase its impact.    

“Fairtrade has gone from strength to strength over the past two decades. Now we are redoubling our efforts so that we can build on this success and create even greater impact. I’m confident that by working together in partnership with producers, traders and civil society, we will achieve our vision of a living wage and a living income for Fairtrade farmers and workers,” says Soto Abril.

voting main image 20 years