1795 Food Riots
Food or Bread Riots started in the eighteenth century and continued into the early nineteenth century. The riots started when the supply of food and grain was artificially reduced to increase the price that farmers and grain brokers could charge. The riots were led by women armed with sticks, rocks and guns.
The Riots were the direct result of the change from a rural society to one of people living in cities during the Industrial Revolution. They were mainly caused by middlemen who paid farmers little and then sold their produce for prices too high for people to afford or controlled the market by withholding grain which could be stored.
1827 Radical Quakers
In 1827 Thomas M'Clintock, a radical Quaker living in Philadelphia started the Free Produce Movement to boycott southern goods produced using slave labor. Though the Movement is usually attributed to Thomas M'Clintock, his wife Mary was just as active in the Free Produce as she was in the women's rights movement.
In the nineteenth century focus turned to rights and plight of the producers. Eduard Douwes Dekker (aka Multatuli) was a Dutch author best known for his novel Max Havelaar. He was a civil servant in Java and as a result he knew the inner workings of the Colonial government and was appalled by them.
Though a work of fiction, Max Havelaar brought attention to abuses that were occurring under the Dutch colonial regime and it was based on fact. It also brought change.
Post War Economics
Peace broke out in 1945 and Europe was in financial turmoil. To help in the recovery, organizations began buying and reselling handicrafts from Europe and Puerto Rico. This movement was really started by Edna Ruth Byler, a Mennonite, who took a trip to Puerto Rico and she was horrified by the poverty there.
She returned with needlework made by Puerto Rican women which she sold to friends out of the trunk of her car. She used the money she made from the sales to purchase more items at a fair price. She then began connecting craftspeople in Puerto Rico with marketing opportunities in the United States. This was the foundation of Ten Thousand Villages, the first Fair Trade Organization in North America.
In 1949 SERRV (Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation and Vocation) was founded. They imported handmade wooden clocks from German World War II refugees to help alleviate their economic situation.
The Modern Movement
Unfortunately, once you buy a wooden clock, you don't need another one in a week. After the novelty of fair trade handcrafts wore off, the movement would lose momentum and people would lose interest.
In the 1990s there was a shift away from fair trade handcrafts to fair trade food. It started with the world's second most traded commodity, coffee. This was made possible by the breakdown of international coffee trade agreements and the subsequent panic among coffee farmers who began looking for an alternative way of marketing and getting a fair market price for their coffee.
While sales of fair trade goods in the early 1990s were 80% handcrafts and 20% food, by 2002 the scales had tipped the other way.