Manifesto of the Poor

Fairtrade International Chief Executive Harriet Lamb wrote the foreword, below, for the book. Buy your own copy of ‘Manifesto of the Poor’ here or order it at your local bookshop.

As we celebrate 25 years of Fairtrade products on the shelves, we find a world reeling from economic crisis and teetering on environmental disaster. It couldn’t be more timely for the co-founder of Fairtrade, Frans Van der Hoff, to share his vision of an alternative future based on social solidarity. With trademark inspiration and uncompromising clarity of thought, he calls for an economy that puts smallholder farmers and the poor first in a globalization based on solidarity among communities.

Frans Van der Hoff, co-founder of Fairtrade

Van der Hoff sees Fairtrade as a kind of social laboratory. We have tried radical new ideas, and experimented with innovative ways of regulating trade, and we have found success – to the cynics’ ever-lasting surprise – because we put people and justice first. Obviously, Fairtrade is not the answer to all the world’s problems. And we know painfully well that we are just at the very start of a long and difficult journey. But Fairtrade does contain the seeds of wider, far-reaching change. This Manifesto is rooted in that practical experience of ‘opposing and proposing’, of respecting the ideas of the dispossessed and creating the living alternative.

Frans van der Hoff is a humbling role-model in his determination, following Gandhi’s principles, ‘to be the change you want to see’. Living with indigenous farmers in the mountains of Mexico, it is their reality which informs and colors his world vision. This book is neither a policy agenda for tackling poverty, nor a condescending Manifesto for the Poor. It is purposely a Manifesto of the poor – a wake-up call to the world to listen to the wisdom of the smallholder farmers and their call for a dignified justice. As he says, we should not look for solutions imposed from above; instead we should look to the organized smallholders, the marginalized indigenous, the poorest themselves for solutions.

This critique is sorely-needed. In the wake of the banking and financial crisis, it is truly shocking how fast the world has returned to business-as-usual. Public money and public institutions rescued banks and economies from a crisis caused by unfettered greed. And yet within the unabashed blink of an eye, mainstream policy-making has rushed to kneel again at the altar of the free-market and the free pursuit of individualist gain.

Van der Hoff reminds us of the injustices and poverty engendered by capitalism and the urgent need for change. These crises, he argues, can help us realize what is not working well, and enable new ideas to blossom in the light of day.

This Manifesto is visionary, but never day-dreams. Fairtrade is grounded all too firmly in the messy complexity of reality for that. Creating an alternative economic model based on justice, seeking ways to put people and the planet first, is always challenging. Every step is deeply debated in the rough and tumble of moving the Fairtrade movement forward.

Yet Fairtrade has brought inspiration to people across the world. It has created a space to experiment in putting community first, working alongside disadvantaged smallholders, and focusing on the environment. That’s why Fairtrade’s popularity has soared, nowhere more so than in the Fairtrade Towns movement that has spread like wildfire across the world, bringing communities together on the local level while connecting them globally.

Frans van der Hoff calls on us all to continue experimenting, discussing and pushing movements for social solidarity, including Fairtrade, upward from below: organized producers, consumers and all those angry at the injustices that surround us. This Manifesto will surely add spark to that debate, and is the reminder we all need to pause in the rush and noise of our lives, think, listen – and act for change.

Buy your own copy of ‘Manifesto of the Poor’ here or order it at your local book shop.



Fairtrade International is a group of organizations working to secure better trade terms for farmers and workers. Learn more at

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