The fair trade movement started with one woman, Edna Ruth Byler. She traveled to Puerto Rico as a volunteer with the Mennonite Central Committee in 1946. There she met highly female artisans who, despite impressive skills, were living in poverty (while trying to feed and otherwise care for family members). Edna purchased needlework from those women to take to her home in Central Pennsylvania. She campaigned for support of entrepreneurs in developing countries among her own friends and family and sold their handiwork out of the trunk of her car. She began traveling back and forth between, selling the products she purchased and returning the profits directly to those who produced them.
Edna worked for 24 years to connect skilled artisans in developing countries with a sustainable market in the United States. When she retired, the fair trade movement didn’t end. Her personal project morphed into what is known as Ten Thousand Villages today. ( Ten Thousand Villages is one of the largest fair trade organizations in existence today. To read more about the history of Ten Thousand villages, click here.)
Fair trade sprang up all over the world as needs for it became apparent to empathetic consumers and entrepreneurs. In 1949, SERRV International (Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation and Vocation) was started in response to needs of World War II refugees(Source). In the 1950′s, Oxfam UK sold crafts made by Chinese refugees (Source). In 1988, world coffee prices plummeted. A Dutch Non-Governmental Organization responded with the founding of Solidaridad, the first fair trade certification initiative(Source).
Have you ever felt discouraged from doing something you think you should because “what difference will it make anyway?”
I have…and do.
Have you ever looked around you and thought, “things will never change, so why bother wasting my energy?”
Um, I have.
I’d just like to point out that a system that pays (often disadvantaged) farmers and artisans what is fair and viable for them was started by one woman.
You are one person.
I am one person.
I will admit to you that neither of us will change the world
but we can most certainly change the world for some.