Small start, big impact

There are a number of parallels between the Fair Tax Mark and Fairtrade writes Tim Hunt.

Since the launch of the Fair Tax Mark much has been made of our similarities with the Fairtrade Foundation. Our growth from a wider grassroots movement and our commitment to drive positive social change through consumer choice to name but two.

And you don’t have to take my word for it. Last week Ed Mayo general secretary of Co-ops UK said, “Fair tax is the new fair trade. I was one of the team of founders of the Fairtrade Mark over twenty years ago, and since that time it has changed lives across the world through trade.” “The Fair Tax Mark, pioneered by leading co-operatives, just as fair trade was, but open for every company, can also change lives.”

So there we have “Fair tax is the new fair trade” with both organisations having close close links to the co-operative movement. But that’s not all.

Like us the first Fairtrade label started small. In 1988 under the label, Max Havelaar, the first ‘Fairtrade’ coffee from Mexico was sold into Dutch supermarkets. I’m sure at the time certifying just one product seemed like a drop in the ocean and only in their wildest dreams could these pioneers envisage the impact of their label on the world today. We’ve already managed to certify three pioneer companies, with more to follow very soon and if we can replicate even a little of how much Fairtrade has grown we will be very pleased.


But it took a while for the Fairtrade to grow into anything like the giant organisation it is today. In the 1980’s and 1990’s the Max Havelaar initiative was copied in several other markets across Europe including Belgium, Switzerland, and France and later under the banner “Fairtrade Mark” in the UK. It wasn’t until 1994, 6 years after the initial concept was rolled out, that the first officially Fairtrade certified product Green & Black’s Maya Gold Chocolate was launched, followed by Cafédirect coffee and Clipper tea. We hope we can replicate this and spread the word across the world. In fact there has already been calls from taxpayers Australia who called for a similar Mark to be introduced down under.

Like us the label also grew out of a wider movement. Fairtrade has its history in post war Christian groups. Those familiar with the tax justice movement will be aware of all the great work done by the Methodist Tax Justice Network and jubilee debt campaign on the issue. The support of such groups and their members will be vital in ensuring the success of the campaign. We have already begun the process of seeing how we can more work more closely with them, through Tax Justice UK network, to achieve our common goals.


And those goals are also closely linked to those of the Fairtrade foundation. Like us they want to see a fairer society and fairer economy. And like us they know that an important tactic in achieving this is providing consumers with a simple proposition that can encourage the change that we want to see. In their case a fair price for growers in our case a fair and transparent tax system.

In the end it is going to be the support of consumers that makes the Mark fly. Ben Reid, Chief Executive of Midcounties Co-operative, said in last month’s Guardian roundtable debate that the Fair Tax Mark was now “attracting the same type of passion as Fair Trade” and hoped that it snowballs in the same way. As Ed Mayo adds “All it takes is for consumers, people who are taxpayers themselves, to back the companies that pay what they owe.” We believe they will.