Starting point: Parallel development of national and regional fair trading importing organizations

Organizing Strategy: Link with producer organizations for international presence

Tools: Conferences, publications, campaigns, initiatives

Outcome: Shared agendas, experience and international presence


In the 1970s alternative trade buying organisations had been meeting informally in conference every few years to talk about issues that concerned them all. At the Berlin Conference in 1987, Alternative Trade Organisations (ATOs) decided they needed something more formal, and a steering committee was set up to plan for the creation of a Federation for Alternative Trade.  They worked on a draft of a constitution which was presented to 38 ATOs meeting in Nordwijk aan Zee, Netherlands in May 1989. The steering committee envisaged a federation of northern ATOs.  On 12 May 1989, after a great deal of argument and discussion – particularly about the inclusion of producers as members of the new organization –  the constitution was approved, an executive committee was elected and International Federation of Alternative Trade (IFAT) was born.  In 1990, producer representatives joined the executive committee in the Netherlands to discuss the issue of producer participation in IFAT. It was agreed that producer organizations should be invited to join IFAT as full members 

We are on a journey.  A journey for Fair Trade and Trade Justice. Not justice for the few. Justice for all.  At the moment, international trade far, far too often allows the strong to exploit the weak and the rich to become richer at the expense of the poor. Profits for multinational corporations are considered more important that decent working conditions and fair pay for people. The result is poverty and suffering on a huge scale. That must change. That’s why we are here!  We, Fair Trade Organizations, are united in our fight against poverty and for fairer world trading rules. We work together, determined to overcome the injustice that threatens the very future of our planet.  We are taking this message around the world to tell everyone, everywhere that we truly believe that another world is possible. Be with us! Speak out for trade justice! Support Fair Trade!”


At its 2008 AGM held in Sri Lanka IFAT agreed a new name – World Fair Trade organization – to reflect the breadth and impact of the organization. It also adopted a new mission statement:

WFTO aims to improve the livelihoods of marginalised producers and workers, especially in the South.  

WFTO aims to change unfair structures of international trade, mainly by means of Fair Trade, to improve and co-ordinate the cooperation of its member organizations and to promote the interests of  and provide services to its member organisations and individuals.”

Following the 2009 Conference in Nepal the full force of the global economic downturn affected many WFTO members South and North with purchase orders falling by as much as 40% for many members in the South. Later in the year it became apparent that expenditure had been made without proper funding which put the future of the WFTO in jeopardy. Membership grew to 441. On World Fair Trade Day 1000 events were registered in 70 countries.

2009 also saw the signing of the Charter of Fair Trade Principles by WFTO and Fairtrade Labelling Organizations (now Fairtrade International). The charter is a single international reference point for Fair Trade, which provides concise explanation of Fair Trade principles and the two main routes by which these principles are implemented. It also sets out our common vision, definition of Fair Trade, and core principles.

In 2010 WFTO revised its mission and vision once again:
“Vision:  WFTO, the World Fair Trade organization, has a vision of a world in which trade structures and practices have been transformed to work in favour of the poor and promote sustainable development and justice.

Mission:  WFTO’s mission is to enable producers to improve their livelihoods and communities through Fair Trade.  WFTO will be the global network  and advocate for Fair Trade, ensuring producer voices are heard.  The interests of producers, especially small farmers and artisans, should be the main focus in all the policies, governance, structures and decision-making within the WFTO.”

As WFTO moves into its second quarter century, electronic voting is becoming the norm and the website becomes our key vehicle for sharing information with members. Working Groups communicate through the WFTO Network, an online community platform.  Some meetings at every level take place virtually. The challenges for Fair Trade remain huge. Poverty and suffering are still with us.  We continue to call out for change. Supported by millions of consumers all over the world, we carry on working together to raise the visibility and voice of poor workers and producers and to make the world a better place.