Je voetafdruk

Fair trade in the Netherlands

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  • 1. What is fair trade?

    Over the years, activists have debated this question extensively. Fair trade goes beyond just fair trade practices; its goal has always been to create a sustainable and just world.

    In 2001, the main representatives of the movement established this common definition:

    Fair trade is a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, seeking greater equality in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by providing marginalized producers and workers with better trading conditions and securing their rights – particularly in the global South. Fair trade organizations, supported by consumers, work to support producers, raise awareness, and campaign to change the rules and practices of mainstream international trade.

  • 2. What does fair trade have to do with climate?

    Fair trade activists have long pointed out that concerns for people and the environment go hand in hand. Both practically, by selling recycled paper toilet paper in fair trade shops, and in principle, by incorporating environmental criteria when setting fair trade certification standards.

  • 3. Who was part of the fair trade movement?

    It started with people from the global South, who raised awareness about ongoing inequality in the world. In response to this, people in countries like the Netherlands, ordinary people, like you and me, took action. A minority of the movement was outspoken and radical. A much broader group was more moderate and was mainly attracted to the pragmatic nature of the movement.

  • 4. How did the fair trade movement try to achieve its goals?

    Fair trade focuses on politics, businesses, and consumers themselves.

    By starting the conversation and raising awareness in society, activists hoped to influence politics and businesses to take more responsibility for poorer countries in international trade. This was an indirect tactic: influencing politics and businesses through public support.

    They also had a direct tactic: trying to change companies as consumers and even as traders of products.

  • 5. Why is the history of fair trade relevant?

    We need a new history because our post-colonial worldview is flawed. Previous generations hide behind ignorance of injustice and the origins of the climate crisis. But my historical research into ordinary people taking action in their daily lives clearly shows: they could have known. That’s not pleasant to realize, but we can learn a lot from it. Because it allows us to be more understanding of the resistance that exists today.

    My research focuses on the question: how do people try to make the world sustainable? I am convinced that as we learn more about this, new stories about our history will emerge. And through these new stories, we can truly change our worldview.

  • 6. What was the historical context in which the fair trade movement emerged?

    Decolonization, globalization, and the rise of consumerism due to growing prosperity after the war. These developments made people in the 1960s increasingly aware of their role in the world and as consumers.

    In the 1980s and 1990s, there was also a decline in trust in national and international regulation. This led to less government regulation and more free market policies. Within this political reality, the fair trade movement tried to make an impact. They succeeded through their products and certifications.

  • 7. What role did the global South itself play in the fair trade movement?

    Decolonization, which occurred from the 1940s onwards, allowed the voices of countries in the global South to be heard. And through globalization and new technologies, long-distance contact became increasingly easier over the decades. Politicians, scientists, and producers from the global South actively sought contact with potential allies in Europe from the 1960s onwards. Thus, a strong collaboration between the global North and South came into being.

  • 8. What was the biggest challenge of the fair trade movement?

    It was a continuous balancing act between ideals and reality. And because the movement expanded, and different themes and goals became interconnected, activists didn’t always agree with each other. But by taking small steps, building on each other’s successes, making those difficult compromises, and having a lot of perseverance, change was eventually set in motion. Now, fair trade, and socially responsible entrepreneurship in general, is a very normal concept.

  • 9. Was there also criticism?

    Absolutely. And most criticism came from within the movement itself. These 4 criticisms were (and are) the biggest:

    1. That the movement was too integrated into the capitalist system. And that it would even become a part of this system. This criticism became stronger when certification, through quality marks, became popular and products were mass-marketed in supermarkets. These were the same supermarkets that the movement had campaigned against.
    2. That poorer countries would again become dependent on rich countries in the global North. For example, because coffee and sugar were mainly bought there.
    3. That the ‘fair’ price still did not generate enough income for countries in the global South to sustain themselves.
    4. Lastly, the debate about how strict the criteria for fair trade should be is still ongoing today.
  • 10. Alright, hit me, what 7 lessons can we learn from the fair trade movement?
    1. The mindset: it can be different. Completely different, even. Our way of living and how we have structured our society is not fixed. Once you realize that nothing is a given, you can think much more about change.
    2. Dilemmas are part of changing the world. You can have your ideals, but putting those into practice offers new challenges. The choices regarding that are not always easy. Don’t let that demotivate you.
    3. Collaborating with other movements may lead to some fragmentation and internal division, but it can also provide mutual reinforcement, popularity and faster growth. So, join a group, even if it doesn’t fully represent your vision.
    4. An activist movement doesn’t have to start at one clear moment, with some sort of big bang. A logical line isn’t necessary for success either. Different people and groups can develop independently of one another, to come together and break through at a specific point.
    5. It’s smart to pick one product or issue to campaign with. It matters which product you choose. Choose something with symbolic value that is achievable in practice.
    6. Different tactics and forms reinforce each other: creative posters and flyers, petitions, sending letters, playful actions on the street, contact with the media, and even an exhibition. Use them all.
    7. Persistence pays off. Activism is a matter of perseverance. Success!

Continue to watch and read


  • Presentation by Peter van Dam at Spui25 about the history of environmental activism (NL): Link
  • Talk by Peter in Pakhuis de Zwijger: Tipping points #3  >> LINK


  • The book written by Peter van Dam about fair (NL, the English translation of his book is coming soon): Link
  • Interview with Peter van Dam in Folia (NL): Link
  • Over zijn benoeming tot hoogleraar (NL): Link

Het UvA profiel van Peter van Dam en zijn wetenschappelijke publicaties: Link

Meld je aan voor de nieuwsbrief! Dan ben je als eerste op de hoogte van de ontwikkelingen en activiteiten van het Klimaatmuseum.