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Trade Aid celebrates 40 years of fairness

Monday 4 Mar 2013 11:04 a.m.

New Zealand fair trade importer Trade Aid celebrated its 40th anniversary yesterday.

One thousand kites imported from a trade partner in Thailand were flown to celebrate the growth the company has had in those 40 years.

Vi Cottrell co-founded Trade Aid with her husband Richard after being inspired by a trip to India in 1969.

"We went to India as a kind of adventure, really, and we worked in a programme to resettle Tibetan refugees in northern India," she told Firstline this morning.

"They made great handcrafts, beautiful carpets. So when we came home, it was our idea to import and sell those carpets, and that's where the idea of Trade Aid was born."

In the early days Trade Aid was run by volunteers, but as the company grew began taking on paid staff. Today it employs 900 people – about 100 of them paid – and has 29 stores.

Ms Cottrell says volunteers are key to the company's success.

"I think the goodwill of all those people who give their time for nothing is significant… It is one of the reasons it's been successful for so long."

Trade Aid today imports goods from 30 different countries, choosing who it does business with very carefully.

"They have to fit our criteria," says Ms Cottrell. "We visit them, we know them well and we're in long-term relationships so there is trust on each side. Visiting and constant communication is at the heart of that relationship."

She says since the company began 40 years ago, people have become more aware of fair trade and how it helps impoverished communites from around the world.

"I think there's a whole generation of young people growing up who are very much more aware of injustices in trade and environmental concerns and all of these things," says Ms Cottrell.

"We have speakers that go to schools and we have kits for teachers to use as part of their social studies programmes. They don't promote Trade Aid as such, they talk about trade injustice and the difference that fair trade can make."

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