Fair Trade Movement Celebrates 25 Years

(3BL Media and Just Means)- It's been several months since I've written anything about the fair trade movement, but that's not because things aren't happening. In fact, it's the 25th anniversary of fair trade! A lot of positive things have changed and from my refreshed perspective, the fair trade movement seems to be collaborating, perhaps finally finding more common ground. Perhaps.

Here’s the good news. Fair trade is doing its job- protecting small farmers despite unpredictable fluxes in the market. Coffee prices in 2013 plummeted to less than $1.10 per pound, a devastating and poverty-inducing price. According to the International Coffee Organization, the 2013 price collapse mostly impacted farmers in Central America, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru where leaf rust, La Roya,a fungal disease that destroys coffee trees wiped out 40 percent of the crops. But fair trade certified farms could depend on the fair trade minimum of $1.40 per pound, plus the additional fair trade premium of 20 cents per pound. Many of the fair trade, certifying organizations have also established emergency funding for farmers impacted by La Roya.

Secondly, Fair Trade Campaigns, formerly Fair Trade Towns and Fair Trade Universities, has formed one entity which includes campaigns for schools and congregations. Fair Trade Schools launched early February with ten pilot projects across the country. The goal is to empower educators with fair trade curriculum, encourage schools to host educational events and provide fairly traded products in their cafeterias and offices. 

"Part of what makes this new campaign [Fair Trade Schools] so powerful is that it not only allows us to show the school community how they can make a difference with their purchasing power, but that there are real opportunities for students to take up Fair Trade in future careers," Courtney Lang, National Organizer of Fair Trade Towns, told me.

I'd say it's safe to assume that the founder of the newly established Fair Trade Institute, Valéry Bezençon, professor at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, supports introducing fair trade concepts at an early age. In partnership with The Fair Trade Resource Network, the Fair Trade Institute is a scientific community that makes the world's growing body of research and analysis of Fair Trade accessible to the public. The Fair Trade Institute serves as a centralized database for fair trade, researchand is absolutely an invaluable resource to the fair trade community. Academics and practitioners are encouraged to contribute research papers to the website with the goal of expanding a deeper understanding of fair trade in all of its glory and all of its weakness. Contributors are from around the world including one of my personal favorite fair trade authors, Professor Daniel Jaffee.

All of this good news comes just in time for the 25th anniversary of the fair trade movement and a new book to celebrate it: Manifesto of the Poor. Written by one of the co-founders of the global, fair trade movement, Frans Van der Hoff shares the inside story of how fair trade began and a clear vision for how it can help alleviate global poverty with dignity and a focus on self-reliance. Chief Executive of Fairtrade International, Harriett Lamb, writes in the foreword:

"This book is neither a policy agenda for tackling poverty, nor a condescending Manifesto for the Poor. It is purposely a Manifesto of the poor – a wake-up call to the world to listen to the wisdom of the smallholder farmers and their call for a dignified justice. As he says, we should not look for solutions imposed from above; instead we should look to the organized smallholders, the marginalized indigenous, the poorest themselves for solutions."

Happy 25 years, fair trade. I'm glad you're still growing strong, protecting small farmers and farm workers they way you are supposed to. Cheers.

Sources: Fair Trade Campaigns, Fair Trade Institute, Fair Trade Resource Network, Fairtrade International, Manifesto of the Poor, Fair Trade USA