• Agents of Change

    • This Dutchman was an activist during his youth, and started a revolutionary method which promoted a fair economy: the certification that would help farmers across the planet commercialise their products.

    Frans Vander Hoff: sowing the structural seed of a fair economy / 

    Despite the fact that there were already indications that social economies had been formed in America since the early nineteenth century, either through the mutuality of the workers or that of the cooperatives, it wasn’t until the end of the Eighties when the manifestations of commercial community efforts truly began to bloom. Demographic growth and the capitalist system —which for example, favours speculation surrounding the price of food—, had resulted in an unequal distribution of wealth, with enormous differences.

    Because of the liberalising of the market, food security was ignored in many countries, since they invested in the most profitable products for their exportation, and the support system for farmers was abandoned, and they then had to compete with international food prices and imported products. In this context, the priest Frans Vander Hoff gave a paradigmatic turn to the expectations of small producers and farmers across the globe.

    Vander Hoff was born in Holland in 1939; he was the son of an agricultural family. He studied economic politics and theology in the University of Radboud in Germany. When he was young he became involved in the pro-democratic student movements of his time. In 1973 he moved to Mexico City to work in the poorest neighbourhoods. Afterwards he made his way to Oaxaca, one of the poorest areas of the country, where he worked with local coffee producers.

    In 1988 Vander Hoff created the first certification for fair trade products in the world. He helped coffee farmers in Oaxaca get organised and export their products to Europe, following a model that would give them a fair pay for their products, according to a sustainability law. The project unchained a fair trade network around the world, establishing common wellbeing as the economic axis, and not just the profits.

    To this day, father Vander Hoff works in Oaxaca with indigenous farmers. In January he presented his most recent book entitled Manifesto of the Poor, Solutions come from below, which was anxiously expected by the European parliament with great expectation. The book criticises the orthodox free market system, and it explains in detail his ideas and experiences in the theory and practice of fair trade markets as an alternative to traditional capitalism.

    Frans Vander Hoff proved that despite a low profile, solutions for the historically excluded classes seem to happen slowly “from below”. The economy which has privileged individual freedom through accumulation has overlooked sectors who do not wish to change their lifestyle for example, although they do want to be recognised for their differences, but with justice.

    Tagged: Agents of Change, economy, fair trade, Frans Vander Hoff