Our history begins back in the 1970s. It was a time of protest across the western world – against war, against want and against consumerism. Out of this climate came something new – a movement of people fighting for fairer trade.
Committed young people all over Europe and the US began engaging in direct or alternative trade with what was then known as the ‘third world’. Their aim was to bypass and expose the unfair and monopolistic trading systems that led to poverty, disenfranchisement and indebtedness in the communities that produced goods for the western world.
While many of these organisations were set up by, or emerged from, charities, the early years of Traidcraft were as a standalone business. The founders wanted to show that trade, not aid, was the way forward. The company was powered by a campaigning zeal but not connected to any specific charity in the background.
It was Traidcraft’s many supporters who suggested, a few years in, that we should create a charity. These supporters had begun selling Traidcraft products in churches and community shops and wanted to donate their profits to a good and related cause. The idea behind the charity was simple: use these profits to educate consumers in Britain about alternative trade (to help increase sales), and work with those producer organisations who supplied Traidcraft with products. This help was to include technical assistance, quality improvements and better farming practice.
And so, in 1986, Traidcraft Exchange was founded.
In our early years, we focused on these two aims of education and producer support, but soon realised the importance of influencing other businesses and challenging policies in the UK. Our policy and campaigning work led directly to the establishment and publication of social accounts (to complement standard fiscal reporting) in the early 1990s and the setting up of the Groceries Code Adjudicator to regulate supermarket power in 2013.
We also started looking beyond the producers who supplied Traidcraft the company, and found opportunities to work with farmers and artisans who were trading in local and regional markets. Working with local partners, and drawing on Traidcraft’s experience, we supported small-scale tea growers, cotton farmers, jute growers, craftspeople and others to come together, develop a collective voice, build their confidence and get the relevant training to meet the challenges of rapidly changing markets.
Today we are proud of our thirty-year history. Our development programmes have benefited millions of people, raising incomes, building skills and networks, and enabling producers to negotiate for themselves more effectively. And through our policy and campaigns work, we have spoken up for some of the most vulnerable people in international supply chains, and changed government policy.
As we move into our fourth decade, we will continue to draw on our own experience and understanding of trade and development, and the practical know-how of Traidcraft plc. Just like those first pioneers, we are passionate about justice and equality, and prepared to take a stand for a better world now and for future generations.