On World Fair Trade Day (13 May) 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 and sustainable 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.
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 hand crafts 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 and included those with a range of business backgrounds along with people who specialised in development aid from the Catholic Commission and CORSO. Father John Curnow was a guiding light for Trade Aid, as he was for many development organisations over the years.
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 in the underdeveloped 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. Fair trade coffee in this country was born. We’re New Zealand’s largest importer of fair trade coffee and we’re proud to work with over 1300 like-minded kiwi businesses to make quality products, that are nothing but good, 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.
Buying fair trade helps people to live and work in dignity. 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.