Celebrating 20 Years of Fairtrade International

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

Voting at Fairtrade's General Assemby 2017. ©Javier Luna

07 July 2017

Founded in 1997 as the umbrella organization 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 organizations 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 bananas, 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.

Watch a video of our members reflecting on 20 years of Fairtrade International

“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 on investing 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.

Mayaris Romero, a worker at a Fairtrade banana plantation representing Latin American workers at the Assembly, is positive about the progress so far: “The impact of Fairtrade has been substantial, for the economic situation of the workers and for the whole company. My children are studying and the many other workers’ children are now building careers, thanks to Fairtrade”.

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:

  • Pioneering work on living wage, including co-founding the Global Living Wage coalition and setting living wage benchmarks for all the regions in which we work.
  • Developing more ways for businesses to work with us beyond standards and certification, such as programmes with producer groups to drive sustainable development in their farms and communities.

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.

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