4 | NOVEMBER 2015
Where did fair trade all start?
During the 1940s to 1960s, mostly
craft items from supply chains in de-
veloping countries began to be sold
in churches and charity shops like
Oxfam. Perhaps more of a charitable
donation than a commercial transac-
tion; nevertheless, this raised aware-
ness of disadvantaged producers in
the developing world.
Simply put, fair trade is a system of
producing and selling goods that en-
sures the people selling them receive
a fair price. It’s widely recognised that
such fair trade coffee was first import-
ed in the Netherlands in 1967 by the
Dutch organisation Komitee Steun
Onderontwikkelde Streken (Support
for Underdeveloped Regions Commit-
With the motto “Not aid but trade”,
it went on to become known as the
international fair trade brand, Fair
Trade Original. In 1969, the first Eu-
ropean ‘worldshop’ selling exclusively
fair trade goods opened in Breuke-
len, the Netherlands, staffed by vol-
unteers. Worldshops are still going
strong here with around 400 outlets
across the country.
Despite the fact that he was not a
real person, Max Havelaar has been
remarkably influential in Dutch for-
eign policy. The main character in
the 1860 satirical novel of the same
name, Max Havelaar fights against
the corrupt government system and
coffee trade in the Dutch East Indies,
with the wider story being how the
wealth that was enjoyed in Europe at
the time was the result of suffering in
other parts of the world. Widely read
at the time, this damning exposé was
recognised by one writer as “the book
that killed colonialism”.
Over 1,000 years later, the name of
Max Havelaar has endured to be-
come a symbol of ethical trading with
poorer nations; the brand name given
to the world’s first fair trade labelling
system, established by the Dutch in
1989, and now part of the worldwide
labelling organisation Fairtrade Inter-
On the Dutch high street
So how might you notice this down
at your local Dutch supermarket?
Fair trade coffee is well represented,
and together with chocolate and ba-
nanas, they probably make up the
bulk of a fair trade shopping basket.
To a lesser extent all sorts of other
fair trade products are available in
the supermarket, including tea, sugar,
wine, and more. Uniquely, 100% of
the chocolate letters sold at Sinterk-
laas now use fair trade cocoa.
The long-established Dutch bank-
ing industry has also seen a fair trade
influence success with Triodos Bank.
Trading since 1980, their ethical ap-
proach is that only organisations
that generate a proven added value
to people and the environment are
eligible for loans. Dutch fair trade is
even evident in the very instrument
of trade – money. Since 2007, the De
Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) has used
a percentage of fair trade cotton to
make our euro notes, supporting cot-
ton farmers in Africa and India.
With the knowledge that 25%
of clothing sold in the Netherlands
comes from China, since 2007 the
Dutch NGO Solidaridad has invested
in developing ethical and sustainable
supplies of cotton from the ‘cotton
province’ of Xinjiang for the Dutch
clothing market. This has included
training for farmers in agricultural
techniques to increase their income
from cotton, as well as training for
employees in sewing factories about
Solidaridad has increased its influ-
ence on the global textiles industry,
bringing together international fash-
ion brands such as H&M and G-Star
to help fund sustainable improve-
ments to the clothing industry in
Bangladesh via a four-year €8 million
project, the Bangladesh Water Pact.
Half of the funds for the project is
coming from the Dutch government,
and half from industry partners.
Dutch communities can campaign
for their local municipality to become
a Fairtrade Gemeente (Fairtrade
Town). In the Netherlands there are
now 59 Fairtrade Towns*, including
Delft, Utrecht, The Hague, Rotterdam
and Amsterdam. It’s an honorary title
that indicates that the gemeente’s
shops, restaurants, businesses, or-
ganisations, residents and local gov-
ernment work together on local fair
The Netherlands is still at the fore-
front of the newest frontier in fair
trade – the mobile phone industry.
It’s notoriously hard to pinpoint ethi-
cal sources for all the materials used
in electronic products; dependent on
specialist minerals for their technol-
ogy and with at least 30 different raw
metals, smartphones in particular
pose a totally different kind of fair
trade challenge. However, Fairphone,
an Amsterdam-based global initia-
tive, thinks we should try harder,
tackling the problem from the design-
end as well as the sourcing of compo-
nents. Having only launched in 2013,
FairPhone are already on their second
model phone and in April 2015 they
won The Next Web’s award for Eu-
rope’s fastest-growing startup.
With all of these initiatives, and many
more that there isn’t space to men-
tion, it all points to the Netherlands
as the natural home of the fair trade
movement; from both its historical
roots to its bright new future.
Fair Trade Original
* As of 8 September 2015.
(A version of this article was first
published in the ACCESS e-zine.
The Dutch still leading the way in fair tradeDutch Safety Board: Buk missile
system caused MH17 crash
THE HAGUE | According to a report
published by the Dutch Safety Board, the
crash of flight MH17 (Malaysia Airlines) on
17 July, 2014 was caused by the detona-
tion of a 9N314M-type warhead launched
from the eastern part of Ukraine using a
Buk missile system. Prior to the publica-
tion of the report, 428 surviving relatives
of the victims had the opportunity to visit
the reconstruction of the aircraft. More de-
tails available at www.onderzoeksraad.nl
Dutch government to stop rec-
ognising child marriages from
THE HAGUE | The Dutch government is
changing a law so that minors under age
18 married abroad may not join their
spouses in the Netherlands. Amid growing
concerns over the number of child brides
resulting from the wars in Syria and Iraq,
the new law will be effective as of Decem-
ber 5. According to Save the Children,
early and forced marriage has doubled for
Syrian refugee girls since the onset of the
war. Via AFP.
Netherlands ends lifetime blood
ban on gay and bisexual men
DEN HAAG | Minister for Health Edith
Schippers said in a statement that gay and
bisexual men will be able to donate blood
for the first time under new regulations.
However, the men must have not had
any male partners for 12 months before
donating to be considered acceptable
donors. Despite the change, Dutch LGBT
rights groups have expressed disappoint-
ment, saying this ruling is too little, too
National Novel Writing Month
kicks off in Amsterdam
AMSTERDAM | The successful kick-off
for “NaNoWriMo” took place on Sunday,
1 November, at the Amsterdam Central
Library. The Amsterdam Writing Work-
shops sponsored the event to start off the
month-long writing marathon. The hosts,
NaNoWriMo veteran Nico Janssen and
writing workshop creator Lisa Friedman,
offered expert advice on writing first
drafts. The international writing project
challenges writers, new and experienced,
to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.
Are you in? Visit www.amsterdamwriting.
com and www.nanowrimo.org..
Most of us know how the Netherlands made its riches in the Dutch Golden Age – from its
strength as a trading nation – but hundreds of years later a new trading narrative seems to
have grown out of the embers of that legacy – fair trade. With Fairtrade Week having just
ended here in the Netherlands, CATHY LEUNG takes a look at where it all started and the new
frontiers in fair trade.
Photo: Dutch Safety Board
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