History of Fairtrade

Fairtrade labelling international history

The concept of ‘fair trade’ has been around for over 40 years according to FINE but a formal labelling scheme didn’t get off the ground until the late 1980s.

1988: launch of the first Fairtrade label, Max Havelaar, under the initiative of the Dutch development agency Solidaridad. The first ‘Fairtrade’ coffee from Mexico was sold into Dutch supermarkets. It was branded “Max Havelaar,” after a fictional Dutch character who opposed the exploitation of coffee pickers in Dutch colonies.

Late ‘80s/early ‘90s: The Max Havelaar initiative is replicated in several other markets across Europe and North America “Max Havelaar” (in Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and France), “Transfair” (in Germany, Austria, Luxemburg, Italy, the United States, Canada and Japan), “Fairtrade Mark” in the UK and Ireland, “Rättvisemärkt” in Sweden, and “Reilu Kauppa” in Finland.

1997: Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) was established in Bonn, Germany to unite the labelling initiatives under one umbrella and establish worldwide standards and certfication.

2002: FLO launches a new International Fairtrade Certification Mark. The goals of the launch were to improve the visibility of the Mark on supermarket shelves, facilitate cross border trade and simplify export procedures for both producers and exporters.

2004: FLO splits into two independent organizations: FLO International, which sets Fairtrade standards and provides producer business support, and FLO-CERT, which inspects and certifies producer organizations and audits traders.

2006: The Fairtrade Certification Mark harmonization process is still under way – today, all but three Labelling Initiatives (namely Transfair USA, TransFair Canada and Max Havelaar Switzerland) have adopted the new International Fairtrade Certification Mark. Full transition to the new Fairtrade certification Mark should become reality as it gradually replaces the old certification marks at various speeds in various countries.

2007: 21 Labelling Initiatives are members of FLO International. New additions include Mexico and Australia/New Zealand.


Fairtrade Foundation chronology


  • The Fairtrade Foundation was established by CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam, Traidcraft, the World Development Movement and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes.


  • The first Fairtrade certified product Green & Black’s Maya Gold Chocolate made with cocoa from Belize is launched, shortly followed by Cafédirect coffee and Clipper tea.


  • Justino Peck, cocoa farmer from Belize tours the country during the first annual Fairtrade Fortnight.


  • The first in a range of Percol single origin and organic Fairtrade coffees is launched.


  • In January Fairtrade coffee becomes widely available to the catering trade and a campaign is launched to target restaurants and institutions.
  • MPs Glenda Jackson, Simon Hughes and Peter Bottomley table Early Day Motion in support of the Palace of Westminster serving Fairtrade refreshments. The EDM attracts support from over 100 MPs.
  • In November the House of Commons switches to Matthew Algie’s Fairtrade Tiki Caffé in all of its refreshment outlets throughout the Palace of Westminster.


  • The first honey to carry the FAIRTRADE Mark is launched by Equal Exchange.
  • Divine Chocolate launched the first farmer-owned Fairtrade chocolate company, teaming up with Kuapa Kokoo co-operative, Ghana and funded by a DfID loan
  • Bristol, Nottingham, Bath and Norwich City Councils become the first local authorities to convert to Fairtrade coffee and tea.
  • Following an initiative led by the Co-operative Bank and Clare Short MP, top UK businesses including Alliance & Leicester, Lucas Varity, Jarvis, and the Woolwich now offer Fairtrade coffee to their staff.


  • In January the first MORI poll is carried out to measure awareness and understanding of the Fairtrade Mark.
  • Insurance giant CGU (now AVIVA) is the latest large company to offer staff coffee, tea and hot chocolate with the FAIRTRADE Mark, through its vending machines.
  • The late Jossiah Kinanga, Chair of Kayonza Tea Growers Factory, Uganda and Cayetano Ico, Chair of Toledo Cacao Growers Association, Belize are invited to the UK for Fairtrade Fortnight.


  • In January, The first bananas to carry the FAIRTRADE Mark are launched in over 1,000 Co-op stores. Other supermarkets swiftly follow suit.
  • March sees the launch of Co-op Fair Trade Milk chocolate bars, the first first supermarket Own Label FAIRTRADE Mark product, joint branded with pioneering Divine chocolate
  • Coffee and tea carrying the FAIRTRADE Mark become available as an option in the first national coffee shop chains to offer Fairtrade.
  • The first year that churches are targeted with Action Packs for Fairtrade Fortnight.
  • Fairtrade Foundation staff with members of the Women’s Institute visit banana farmers in the Windward Islands and produce a film to link women farmers to women consumers.
  • The Co-operative Bank launches a Fairtrade Pledge to encourage their customers to switch to Fairtrade.
  • In October, Fairtrade chocolate bar Dubble with added Comic Relief was launched, with an award winning education pack taking Fairtrade in 15,000 UK schools
  • Launch of the first Fairtrade composite product, Traidcraft Apricot Geobar.


  • The retail value of annual Fairtrade sales reaches £30 million – equivalent to £1being spent every second.
  • Fruit Passion, the first range of fruit juices to carry the FAIRTRADE Mark, is introduced into supermarkets.
  • Garstang in Lancashire declares itself ‘the world’s first Fairtrade Town’.
  • The Transport and General Worker’s Union votes to promote Fairtrade. The union, which has nearly one million members, passes a policy to use Fairtrade tea and coffee for all business and office purposes.


  • In January, Colombian roast and ground coffee is the first of a wide range of Sainsbury’s own brand FAIRTRADE Mark products and the first Fairtrade mangoes are launched in Co-op stores.
  • The new international FAIRTRADE Mark is launched by Harry Hill at the Contemporary Applied Arts gallery in London, replacing the interlocking ‘F’ symbol. The Fairtrade Foundation website is re-launched.
  • In February, the Prime Minister Tony Blair visits Fairtrade registered farmers and releases statement of support for the FAIRTRADE Mark.
  • In March, Starbucks offers Fairtrade coffee as an option and converts its chocolate bar through Divine
  • In May Spilling the Beans report on the coffee trade is launched.
  • The first FAIRTRADE Mark cake is launched in October. The Fairtrade Chocolate Chip Cake is the latest in a growing range of Own Label Fairtrade products by the Co-op. Pret A Manger offers customers FAIRTRADE Mark coffee as the only filter option throughout all of its outlets.
  • Sainsbury’s sells around 1million FAIRTRADE Mark bananas a week and offers Own Label FAIRTRADE Mark coffee, tea, chocolate and bananas.
  • Co-op wins Multiple Retailer of the Year at the Retail Industry Awards 2002, in part due to its commitment to Fairtrade.
  • In September, the first supermarket Own Label instant coffee granules to carry the FAIRTRADE Mark, are launched by Co-op in 1,000 stores. The UK’s largest retailer, Tesco, starts selling FAIRTRADE Mark bananas. Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Safeway and Asda already sell FAIRTRADE Mark bananas.
  • The annual retail value of FAIRTRADE Mark sales in the UK reaches £45m – meaning almost £1.50 is spent on FAIRTRADE Mark products every second. FAIRTRADE Mark roast and ground coffee takes 14% of the UK market.
  • In November the Co-op switches all of its Own Label chocolate to Fairtrade.
  • In December, the world’s first Fairtrade pineapples go on sale in Co-op stores.


  • A MORI Poll shows recognition of the FAIRTRADE Mark is now at 25% and understanding of what the Mark means stands at 33%.
  • The number of Fairtrade Towns reaches 19 and in March the Greater London Authority announced its intention to work toward Fairtrade City status.
  • The number of Fairtrade retail products increases to over 130.
  • Sanderson and St Martins Lane Hotels in London switch to Fairtrade coffee and tea.
  • FLO wins the King Baudouin International Prize for Development.
  • Fairtrade oranges from South Africa are launched.


  • The Fairtrade Foundation wins the Charity of the Year award.
  • 10th birthday of the FAIRTRADE Mark celebrated in the UK.
  • AMT Coffee becomes the first coffee chain to switch to 100% Fairtrade.
  • In September, Marks & Spencer switches all the coffee sold in its 198 in-store Café Revives to Fairtrade.
  • The number of Fairtrade retail products reaches 350.
  • New Fairtrade product categories launched include roses, footballs and wines.
  • Tesco unveils its Own Label range of Fairtrade products.
  • Organisations including the BMA, Salvation Army and Youth Hostel Association switch to Fairtrade certified products.


  • In March the declaration of Manchester and Salford as the joint 100th Fairtrade Town.
  • Copmanthorpe Methodist Church in York becomes the 1000th in the UK to achieve ‘Fairtrade Church’ status from the Fairtrade Foundation.
  • The FAIRTRADE Mark, is winner of the Special Recognition prize in the ‘Media and Services’ category in brand ‘bible’ Superbrands.
  • There are now over 700 Fairtrade retail and catering products available in the UK, up from 150 in 2003.
  • The world’s first Fairtrade coconuts become available at Sainsbury’s.
  • In November the first Fairtrade certified cotton is launched at a press launch themed ‘Cotton on to Fairtrade’ held at the Royal Horticultural Halls, London.
  • Launch of the first Fairtrade certified rice from the Himalayan foothills in North India.


  • Retail sales of products with the FAIRTRADE Mark are estimated at £290m, up 46% from 2005, with growth coming across all product areas.
  • Over 1,500 Fairtrade retail and catering products available in the UK.
  • A celebrity photo exhibition with photos by Trevor Leighton is put on at the.gallery@oxo, London.
  • Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation, is appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2006 New Year Honours List.
  • Silver Kasoro-Atwoki, Director of the Mabale Growers Tea Factory in Uganda, is appointed to the Board of the Fairtrade Foundation.
  • The first Fairtrade ice cream made with Fairtrade certified sugar is launched with Ben & Jerry’s Fairtrade Vanilla.
  • The Fairtrade at Work campaign is launched by the Fairtrade Foundation.
  • The Jewish Social Justice Network launches their Fairtrade Synagogues campaign.
  • An international conference on Fairtrade Towns is held in London bringing together campaigns from across Europe and North America. Delegates from 17 different countries attend.


  • Loose Fairtrade certified bananas are launched by Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.
  • The Fairtrade Foundation is awarded The Directory of Social Change’s ‘Social Change Award’ in the category of Influencer.
  • A TNS public survey commissioned by the Fairtrade Foundation reveals that awareness of the FAIRTRADE Mark has risen to 57% of the adult population.
  • Tearfund and the Soroptomists of Great Britain and Ireland beclome the 14th and 15th members of the Fairtrade Foundation.
  • Sales of Fairtrade certified products top £500m.
  • Fairtrade Foundation wins the Directory of Social Change Innovation Award.


  • The Co-op switches all of its Own Label hot beverages to Fairtrade.
  • Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation Harriet Lamb releases her book Fighting the Banana Wars.
  • Tate & Lyle announce their commitment to convert 100% of its retail branded sugar to Fairtrade.
  • Comic Relief commits major funding to enable Fairtrade to develop in Africa.
  • Fairtrade Foundation launches Tipping the Balance, a vision to double the impact of UK Fairtrade by 2012.


  • Cadbury Dairy Milk commits to going Fairtrade.
  • Fairtrade beauty products are launched.
  • Starbucks roll out their 2008 announcement to go 100% Fairtrade for all espresso-based coffees in the UK and Ireland.
  • First Muslim action guide to Fairtrade launches with support from Muslim Aid and Islamic Relief.
  • The Fairtrade Foundation hosts a conference on the effect of the food crisis for small producers.
  • Fair trade South Africa becomes first African Fairtrade market initiative, with support from Fairtrade Foundation.
  • Sainsbury’s completes conversion of all own-label roast and ground coffee to Fairtrade.


Text taken from The Fairtrade Foundation site.

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