History of Fair Trade

Fair Trade in Northeast Ohio

The Fair Trade movement in northeast Ohio has been grounded in the hard work of non-profit organizations and Fair Trade-only retailers for many years.  In more recent times it has been advanced by local and national retailers offering Fair Trade certified products and initiatives of local high schools and colleges promoting growth of the Fair Trade market through education and advocacy.

Additionally, the region is home to one of the oldest regional solidarity organizations focused on Central America and Colombia, the InterReligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF).  IRTF has been engaged in the Fair Trade movement for over 20 years, initially partnering with Equal Exchange for IRTF’s Café Salvador Project.  Immediately following IRTF’s involvement in Fair Trade, northeast Ohio became one of the largest Equal Exchange markets in the US, with Heinen’s Fine Foods as the first grocery store chain to offer Equal Exchange products.  IRTF continues to be a leader today in the local Fair Trade movement, having co-organized two Northeast Ohio Fair Trade Summits and an annual high school Fair Trade Fashion Show.  Schools, congregations, and civic groups look to IRTF when organizing their own Fair Trade bazaars. Equal Exchange developed a coffee blend (North Coast Roast) to celebrate IRTF’s leadership in the Fair Trade movement and northeast Ohio’s commitment to Fair Trade.

Northeast Ohio also has a number of public and private universities with student leaders and campus offices engaged in the work of promoting Fair Trade through consumer education and providing access to Fair Trade products on campus.  At Hiram College, located about 30 miles from Cleveland, students and their chaplain’s office have developed an on-campus Fair Trade store that offers students, faculty, and campus guests the opportunity to purchase Fair Trade certified food products and fairly traded items made by artisans throughout the world.  In 2007, John Carroll University, nine miles east of downtown Cleveland, initiated a Fair Trade Intern program with financial support from the Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade Fund.  The year-long internships empower students to educate their peers about Fair Trade and advocate for increased Fair Trade offerings on campus.  The work of the interns mobilized a cross-campus movement that succeeded in getting food service providers to serve 100% Fair Trade certified coffee in the campus dining hall, catered events, and two of the three coffee shops.  The interns are continuing to work for more fairly made clothing to be purchased by the university and offered in the campus bookstore.

In September 2009, a group of Fair Trade retailers and advocates organized the first annual Ohio Fair Trade Expo.  This day-long event consisted of educational workshops and a Fair Trade vendors’ fair, bringing together 200+ participants from universities, high schools, faith communities, and advocacy organizations from across the state, but especially from northeast Ohio.  The event received sponsorship from Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade, TransFair USA, the Fair Trade Federation, Equal Exchange, a number of regional and national Fair Trade retailers, and the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.  This significant event provided a foundation for an initial step toward developing a Fair Trade network in Ohio.

Fair trade traces its roots to 1946 when Edna Ruth Byler, a volunteer for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), visited an MCC sewing class in Puerto Rico where she discovered the talent the women had for creating beautiful lace and the extraordinary poverty in which they lived despite their hard work. She began carrying these pieces back to the United States to sell and returning the money back to these groups directly. Her work grew into Ten Thousand Villages, which opened its first fair trade shop in 1958 and is now the largest fair trade retailer in North America. In 1949, Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation and Vocation (SERRV International) began helping refugees in Europe recover from World War II. Today, they support artisans in more than 35 countries.

History of Fair Trade

In the late 1970s, US- and Canadian-based entrepreneurs who defined their businesses with the producers at heart began to meet regularly, exchange ideas, and network. This informal group would evolve into the Fair Trade Federation and formally incorporate in 1994. In 1989, the World Fair Trade Organization (formerly IFAT) was founded as a global network of committed fair trade organizations, aiming to improve the livelihoods of disadvantaged people through trade and to provide a forum for the exchange of information and ideas.

In 1988, as world coffee prices began to sharply decline, a Dutch NGO, Solidaridad, a farmer organization, UCIRI, created the first fair trade certification initiative. Named after a best-selling 19th century book, the Max Havelaar label initially applied only to coffee in the Netherlands, but similar labeling initiatives grew up independently across Europe within a few years. In 1997, these organizations created Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), an umbrella organization which sets the fair trade certification standards and supports, inspects, and certifies disadvantaged farmers. In 1997, FLO affiliate TransFair Canada opened, followed soon after by TransFair USA in 1999.

Since 2000, fair trade sales and consumer awareness have increased tremendously, as the range of fair trade products has also expanded. From the early days of lace and home décor, handmade items now include clothing, sports equipment, toys, and other items. From its initial focus on coffee, fair trade product certification has expanded to tea, chocolate, sugar, vanilla, fruit, wine, and much more. In 2002, the first World Fair Trade Day was celebrated to heighten consumer awareness and to strengthen connections among fair traders and interested citizens around the globe. In 2006, IFAT reported that total fair trade sales topped $2.6 billion.

From its early days in Pennsylvania, fair trade continues to move forward across the globe, because of the efforts of consumers, entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations, and other communities.

SOURCE: Fair Trade Federation