1988: First Fair Trade Label

History Hit

2 mins

15 Nov 2017

On this day in 1988, the Fairtrade certification initiative was established.

According to the Fair Trade Foundation’s 2016 data, more than 1.65 million farmers and workers are employed in Fairtrade certified organisations across 74 countries around the globe.

Fairtrade products are sold in thousands of shops and supermarkets. They are instantly recognisable thanks to the distinctive International Fair Trade Certification Mark.

The world’s first Fairtrade mark was introduced on 15th November, 1988 by a Dutch Non-Governmental Organisation. It paved the way for the international system for differentiating fair trade products.

Cacao seed in the fruit or pocha from the Theobroma cacao tree. Credit: Agricultural Research Service / Commons.

The Fairtrade ethos

The Fairtrade movement’s core aim is to make international trade fairer by supporting and developing small scale producers and their communities.

The ethos developed organically across numerous countries. Perhaps the earliest example was the Ten Thousand Villages project in the Unites States, which was set up in 1946 to purchase needlework from Puerto Rico.

In the late 1950s, Oxfam UK started to sell crafts made by Chinese refugees in its shops, eventually creating the first Fair Trade Organisation. Similarly Fair Trade Original was formed in the Netherlands around the same time.

In the 1960s and 1970s Non-Governmental Organisations in Asia, Africa and South America began setting up organisations to provide advice and help to small producers.

These organisations forged links with similar groups in the Northern Hemisphere to work toward making trade fairer for these producers.

Comparative graph showing Cocoa Market Price vs. Fairtrade Minimum Price (1994-2006). Credit: V. Perez, Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International / Commons.

By the end of the 1980s several formal organisations had been set up, including the International Association for Fair Trade (IFAT – now known as the World Fair Trade Organisation) that brought together a network of Fairtrade organisations aiming to improve the livelihoods of disadvantaged people through trade.

In 1988, a Dutch NGO involved in Fairtrade coffee production, created the first Fairtrade certification initiative.

The result was the Max Havelaar label, the world’s first Fairtrade Certification Mark. Initially the label was only used for coffee sold in the Netherlands but similar initiatives soon grew up across the globe.

Together these organisations founded the International Fairtrade Labelling Organisation.

Fairtrade means that farmers receive a base price for their good, regardless of changes in the price of cocoa, for example, on the exchange markets.

This helps them to develop their businesses, and to plan for the future with some degree of certainty and with immunity from the vicissitudes of market fluctuations that have little to do with them.

Today, the fair trade mark allows shoppers to easily spot items that have been bought, traded and sold under fair trade conditions.

As well as coffee, the label is carried by chocolate, sugar, wine, fruit and many more products sold in 120 countries.

Header image credit: The Fairtrade Logo, found on all Fairtrade products. Commons.