Activist and ethical. 50 years doing it different.

Seriously? 50 years on, we’re still here and we shouldn’t be! We’re still advocating for equity in trade justice. Why? The system is unfair. It’s unfair for our planet, for workers, for farmers, for producers, suppliers, small businesses and for consumers.



We know it doesn’t have to be this way. Since 1973, Trade Aid has proven a successful business model where equity, accountability and creating fairness in trade, is at the heart of what we do.


We celebrate the possibility of using business to build a better world. We’re a social enterprise that champions an alternative way to trade – ethical trade that consumers can be proud of. We’re proud that this year marks 50 years of Trade Aid trading fair and having a positive impact, both here and abroad.


Our story 


Trade Aid has activism at its roots and our 1973 inception was a response to global political turmoil. Founders, Vi and Richard Cottrell were living in Northern India working with organisations helping the 100,000 displaced Tibetan refugees after the Chinese takeover. These peoples were living in settlements in areas like Northern India where there was little arable land available for agriculture. How these settlements were going to become economically viable was a huge concern. Passed-down generational skills became important as artisans banded together to produce beautiful hand-crafted products and become self-reliant in the process.


Upon returning to New Zealand in 1972, Vi and Richard wanted to find a way to continue to help those they had worked with overseas. They gathered their friends, cleared out their garage in preparation for artisan handcrafts from around the world, and started Trade Aid as a social enterprise, before anyone knew what a social enterprise was and well before the term fair trade had even been coined!


They formed Trade Aid in 1973 as a non-for-profit with the mission to encourage trade between New Zealand and all underdeveloped countries. We had fifteen founding members of our society, all wanted to make the world better, wanted to think creatively outside the box and above all wanted to find a new ethical and equitable way to trade. 


Our first product was imported strips of handcrafted Tibetan material, which was used to make beautiful bags here in Christchurch at Kilmarnock Enterprises. On sale at Beaths Department Store, the Tibetan bags became very popular and a symbol of ethical fair trade for many years in this country. Creating fairness in trade had begun and the kiwi public celebrated the style, craft, quality and social good that the humble bag represented. 


The 1970s was a time of social change. Trade Aid collaborated with CORSO (a strong development organisation) where a melting pot of new ideas were being discussed. Developed countries were starting to rethink how to tackle issues of poverty. It was the start of a fundamental shift in the question of how we viewed aid. It was the beginning of developed countries understanding the value of traditions, skills and practices happening all over the world. Local knowledge and skills were starting to be appreciated and seen as crucial to socio-economic development. These ideas were all forming many early fair trade development ideas. The era of ‘trade, not aid’ had arrived. 


Whilst the term “fair trade” hadn’t been coined, we did understand about fair price. So, we used this on everything we did. By 1975, we had the first get together of Trade Aid shops as we developed the educational role that stores could play within the wider New Zealand public. A new approach to retail was developed. A place where you could come and learn about the skilled artisan producers, understand the equitable partnership Trade Aid had with these skilled crafts people and know that your purchase was having a beneficial impact on the lives of entire communities around the world. 


We quickly grew to having 60 trading partners in 25 countries, including six in the Pacific. Our craft products were eclectic with homewares, baskets and Tibetan carpets becoming popular with kiwis around the country.


These relationships put people before profit and were based on partnership, dialogue, transparency and respect. The goal was greater equity in international trade. We concentrated our aims at supporting groups who were economically powerless and those that worked for self-reliance. Many of these partnerships continue today and we’ve had the real privilege of witnessing the positive transformational journey that many of these communities have gone through. We know that fair trade makes a difference because we’ve seen it.


By 1983 Trade Aid had established its ideas on how to make a fairer world: fair trade. And we responded to every political movement of the day, including “nuclear free” and stopping apartheid. We lobbied governments and helped to break down craft product licensing restrictions for Pacific companies who wanted the opportunity to sell their products in our market. We tried to raise awareness on trade injustices and imbalances of power in the conventional trade structures, and to advocate changes in policies to favour equitable trade.


These guiding principles stay with us today and are captured by the World Fair Trade Organisation’s (WFTO) ten principles of the Guarantee System


But we also knew that to fundamentally change trade you needed to be involved with big-selling products that really mattered to every household, everywhere. We needed to think big, so we did. We took on tea, one of the biggest food commodities there is. Followed by coffee. We’re proud to work with over 1300 like-minded kiwi businesses to make quality products that available just about everywhere. 


Our food products have expanded to many categories over the years and have culminated in our Sweet Justice Chocolate Factory, which makes delicious organic chocolate that doesn’t compromise on values.


Today, Trade Aid is proud to be a homegrown business and to collaborate with talented artisans and farmers from 57 social enterprises across 25 countries in the Pacific, Asia, Africa and South America. By supporting us, in turn you’re not only supporting local here in Aotearoa, you’re supporting a global network of small, local businesses offering opportunities to their local communities. 


We’ll keep fighting for trade justice until it’s the standard way to trade and it’s fair for all. We will continue to champion ethical and sustainable trading practices, and to make a positive impact on the world that will benefit both producers and consumers for years to come.




We champion a world where trade is fair for all. We believe in doing the mahi to make the world a little better.


  • We believe in doing business that puts people and the planet first.
  • We believe that trading fairly can help entire communities thrive, can alleviate poverty, and enable sustainable development.
  • We believe in strong, long-term relationships built upon equity, trust and mutual respect.
  • We believe all artisans and farmers deserve to be paid properly for their goods. 
  • We believe in empowering people and that investing in education improves community outcomes. 
  • We believe in business dealings that are transparent and accountable.
  • We believe in having systems to reduce modern slavery and child labour in supply chains.
  • We believe in non-discrimination, gender equity and freedom of association.
  • We believe in safe and healthy working environments.
  • We believe in working in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi. We honour Māori sovereignty and affirm Māori as Tangata Whenua. We recognise indigenous peoples everywhere. We believe in the importance of their voices being heard and the value of their traditional crafts, skills and knowledge.
  • We believe in raising awareness that there is a better way to trade and consume. Together, collective action makes the world a better place.
Vision for the future

In 1969 a young Christchurch couple went looking for adventure. They have no idea their drive and vision will lead to the founding of a fair trade organisation unique in New Zealand.

Tibetan carpets
Tibetan carpets

Vi and Richard Cottrell move to Northern India to work on a resettlement scheme for Tibetan refugees. Richard provides legal support to refugees, while Vi tries to find international markets for the refugees’ Tibetan carpets.


Supporting Tibetan refugees

Vi and Richard come back to Christchurch after two years in India. They want to go on supporting the Tibetan refugees, so they order $1000 worth of carpets and hang them in the CSA Gallery in Christchurch. Within 15 minutes of opening, all the carpets are sold.

Birth of Trade Aid
Birth of Trade Aid

The first meeting of interested members decide to set up “an import company to trade with underdeveloped countries” and call it Trade Aid.

The first jute shipment of products arrive from CORR-The Jute Works in Bangladesh. Further trade partnerships in handmade textiles and handcrafts with countries in the Pacific and Asia are also formed.

Overseas, Fair Trade Original in the Netherlands imports the first fairly traded coffee from cooperatives of small farmers in Guatemala. The concept of fair trade coffee is born.

First shop
First shop

Trade Aid’s first shop is opened in Christchurch, the beginning of the Trade Aid movement.

Educate NZ!

We have the first get together of Trade Aid shops as we develop the educational role that stores can play within the wider New Zealand public. The Wellington shop forms a charitable trust with educational aims to channel profits into researching trading practices, aid and development.

Expanding our reach

We have six trading partners in the Pacific region.

Fair trade caravan
Fair trade caravan

The Trade Aid caravan that acts as a mobile shop is established and goes to 23 A&P shows between 1977 and 1982. 

We have 60 partners in 25 countries with all trading partners now needing to meet strict fair trade partnership criteria that we are developing at this time. At this time the term fair trade has not been coined, but we understand about fair price. So we use this on everything we do.

Jute campaign

A Jute Campaign is organised to highlight the negative effects of plastic on jute exports for our Bangladesh partners. Sir Edmund Hillary fronts a national appeal to generate more trading capital for Trade Aid.

Springbok tour

At the Annual Conference the movement decides to oppose the proposed Springbok Tour.

Tuaiwa (Eva) Rickard
Tuaiwa (Eva) Rickard

Our first shipment of coffee from Nicaragua arrives. A campaign on the need to support Nicaragua in its efforts to remain independent and democratic takes place. Tuaiwa Rickard (Eva Rickard) was the front woman of the campaign.

Trade Aid reaches $1m in sales

World Fair Trade Organization is formed in the Netherlands to act as a voice for fair trade and a forum for the global fair trade movement. 

Trade Aid reaches $1m in sales.

Trade Aid petition
Trade Aid petition

Trade Aid petition calling for stricter safety controls in Asian factories. A fourteen thousand signature petition is presented by Trade Aid to the Thai and Chinese Ambassadors in Wellington as part of this campaign.

Gayhurst Road
Gayhurst Road

Trade Aid moves to Gayhurst Road where they still remain today. Vi Cottrell receives The Queen’s Services Medal.

The year of African trading partners
The year of African trading partners

1995 is the year of African Trading partners. Trade Aid shops mark Africa 95 campaign with special promotions and events. Trade Aid goes on the world wide web in June ’95!

Stop Child Slavery campaign

Stop Child Slavery Campaign – we present a 14,000 signature petition to Parliament to call an end to bonded child labour in the hand-knotted carpet industry in South Asia.

Out of the Red Debt
Out of the Red Debt

Rolls, 200 metres long, of red thumbprints are presented to Parliament as part of our ‘Out of the Red Debt’ campaign calling for the cancellation of unpayable Third World debt.

World Fair Trade Day

The first World Fair Trade Day is celebrated on 4th May and involves the worldwide Fair Trade movement.

Fair trade coffee

Local roasters started buying and roasting Trade Aid’s green fair trade coffee beans by the sack. Today many of New Zealand’s most well-known coffee brands now source a large amount of their supply through Trade Aid’s fair trade coffee relationships. These businesses have helped make us New Zealand’s largest importer of fair trade coffee.

Slavery Still Exists campaign

17,000 signatures (collected in hard copy in 3 weeks!) are presented to parliament as part of the ‘Slavery Still Exists’ campaign.

700 tonnes of coffee beans

Trade Aid imports over 700 tonnes of green, unroasted coffee beans – and it keeps on growing!


In response to the 2007 campaign asking for a ban on slave made products entering New Zealand, the finding released by the government in 2009 suggested that NZ businesses could voluntarily put a slave free label on their products. Trade Aid runs a media and education campaign engaging schools and consumers to ask businesses if they could put a label on their products. No New Zealand chocolate companies did.

WFTO Guarantee

World Fair Trade Organisation members approve the new Guarantee System (GS). This is the system of fair trade regulation that we still use today.

Chocolate factory

We start our sweet revolution, opening the Sweet Justice Chocolate Factory in Sydenham, Christchurch.

NZ Order of Merit

Vi Cottrell (co-founder) is awarded Officer of the NZ Order of Merit.

Sign For Freedom
Sign For Freedom

Trade Aid and World Vision runs the Sign For Freedom petition that urges the government to pass a modern slavery act. 37,000+ petition signatures are presented to Parliament alongside a business letter signed by over 100 NZ businesses.

Fair trade today
Fair trade today

Today we source our handmade, organic and fair trade products from 59 trading partner organisations across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific. These long term trading relationships represent hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers and artisans involved in fair trade.

Trade Aid wouldn’t be the successful social enterprise it is today without working with great kiwi businesses up and down the country. Today Trade Aid works with 1343 businesses to wholesale beautiful artisan crafts and lovingly produced organic food products to this family of businesses who know it matters who makes our products, and that they are being treated right.

Today we have 24 stores, 150 employees and 354 volunteers.