Abstract: British Responsibility and the First Forms of Fair Trade

Teresa da Silva Lopes


Existing literature considers fair trade to be a movement that developed from the 1960s, aiming to build a world in which producers in developing countries could enjoy secure, sustainable livelihoods and fulfill their potential. Although it is recognized that fair trade has its roots as far back as the 1870s with the anti-abolitionist movement against slavery, there are no accounts of the evolution and the significance of fair trade in the years from the 1870s until the 1960s. This paper aims to show that this period should not be neglected, as it provides important evidence about ''proto-fair trade''—the first forms of fair trade. During this period the international business strategies of some multinationals with strong work ethics, and their interactions with home and host governments, had important economic, environmental, and social impact both in developing countries (through the procurement of raw materials and other related activities), and also in developed countries (through the mobilization of consumers to make purchase decisions based on trust and charity). In developing countries the co-operation between the state and multinationals led to important developments such as the introduction of new types of plantations and new farming techniques, the development of new industries, and the creation of fairer relations in commodities' value chains. They also influenced levels of competition, and the power relations between producers in developing countries and consumers in the developed world. This paper draws in particular on evidence from the United Kingdom, historically the most important fair trade market in volume, and the home of leading multinationals in consumer goods with strong religious and work ethics such as Cadbury and Rowntree. It also suggests that the association of their entrepreneurs with Quakerism and the British Society of Friends worked as indirect forms of certification of the products and brands sold by these businesses in the eyes of consumers.