The History of Fairtrade

Over the Years

The concept of "Fair Trade" has been around for over 40 years, but a formal certification scheme didn't get off the ground until the 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 is sold into Dutch supermarkets. It is branded “Max Havelaar”, after a fictional Dutch character who opposed the exploitation of coffee pickers in Dutch colonies.

Late 80s and early 90s : The Max Havelaar initiative is replicated in several other markets across Europe and North America. Each initiative has its own label and name. 

1997 : Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO), now called Fairtrade International, is established in Bonn (Germany) to unite labelling initiatives under one umbrella and establish worldwide standards and certification.

2002 : Fairtrade International launches the FAIRTRADE Mark. The goal of having one mark used across markets is to improve the visibility on supermarket shelves, facilitate cross-border trade and simplify export procedures for both producers and exporters.

2004 FLOCERT is established. It is an independent certification body specialising in Fairtrade audits.

2007 : A total of 24 Fairtrade organisations (the so-called National Fairtrade Organisations) are members of Fairtrade International. They develop and promote Fairtrade in their respective markets – all located in developed countries, mainly Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

2009 : Fairtrade Label South Africa (FLSA) is established as the 1st National Fairtrade Organisation in the developing South. For the first time in the history of Fairtrade, a producing country is actively promoting Fairtrade in the local market and working on fostering South-South trade on Fairtrade principles (different to the traditional South-North export market).

2010 : The FLSA model sets the example for other emerging markets such as Brazil and Kenya, where talks to introduce Fairtrade products locally are underway.

"Fairtrade" and "fair trade"

Fair trade refers to the concept of ethical trading and therefore refers to all initiatives (including craft and tourism) that work to achieve it.

Fairtrade is the leading fair trade movement in the agricultural sector. The name and the Mark are owned by Fairtrade International and only companies certified against Fairtrade Standards can use them and apply the label on their products.