Solidaridad: 50 years

Solidaridad 1969-2019

In the past 50 years, the work of Solidaridad has closely followed the socio-economic developments in the field of international cooperation. And more often than once, the organization has also stood at the brink of innovation in promoting and fostering sustainable economic development.

Anno 2019, Solidaridad operates worldwide and has a full ambition to continue its work as a solution-oriented civil society organization accelerating global sustainable and inclusive development. And as we look forward, we strive to consider the lessons learnt from our 50 year-long experience as well as the essential factors needed to ensure that our society keeps moving forth in its transition towards a sustainable economy.

Promoting social justice

Our journey began in 1969, at a time when social protests worldwide were starting to tear down the old, traditional socio-economic and political structures.

  • Solidaridad was established by Catholic bishops in the Netherlands through an Advent campaign to provide development aid to Latin America. This resulted in the commitment of Dutch Catholic parishes to development cooperation. Solidaridad was thus a child of its time, born at a time when the world was undergoing substantial political and socio-economic changes.

  • Solidaridad was established in 1969 by Catholic bishops in the Netherlands through an Advent campaign to provide development aid to Latin America. This resulted in the commitment of Dutch Catholic parishes to development cooperation.

    This photo is from the 1968 Latin American Bishop conference in Medellin, Colombia. This was one of the turning points in the growing engagement of the Catholic church in advocating social justice, especially for the poor. The Advent campaign ‘Solidaridad’ the following year was among such initiatives.

  • In 1970, the notions of protest and liberation for the oppressed groups in Latin America gained international traction, in particular after the publication of the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed by the Brazilian philosopher and educator Paulo Freire.

  • In 1976, protestant churches joined Solidaridad to constitute a unique, formal ecumenical organization known as the Solidaridad Foundation. This resulted in ecumenical cooperation in support of grassroot movements in Latin America in and outside of the churches.

  • Following the publication of Freire’s book and its effort to connect people in Europe and Latin America, Solidaridad set up the campaign ‘Uit het slop!’, which literally means ‘Out of the slum!’. The aim of this campaign was to make a connection between the residents of poor neighbourhoods in Brazil with those living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the Netherlands.

  • Under the guise of ‘national security’, various governments in Latin America, among which those of Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, continued their oppressive regimes. And in the face of danger, brave voices made themselves heard, such as the Archbishop of San Salvador (El Salvador) Oscar Romero. Romero was outspoken against military oppression during his country’s bloody civil war, and also of the role the United States played in it.

  • On 24 March 1980, Romero was shot in the heart as he was celebrating Mass in San Salvador. Just weeks before his assassination, he wrote a letter to Solidaridad, thanking the organization for its support in buying radio equipment to broadcast his services to a larger audience. He also expressed how difficult it had become to do his work. The photo above is of the funeral procession in 1980.

    Romero was beatified in San Salvador on 23 May 2015 in a ceremony that drew an estimated 250,000 people, believed to have been the largest religious gathering ever held in Central America.

  • In 1981, Guatemalan human rights activist Rigoberta Menchú held her first public speech - ‘Peace with all the violence?’ - at an event organized by Solidaridad in Woerden, a small Dutch town near Utrecht. Shortly before that, Rigoberta had fled Guatemala. When she gave her speech in the Netherlands, her hair was cut very short: to prevent being recognized upon fleeing her country.

    Solidaridad has supported Rigoberta’s work in human rights for many years. In 1992, Rigoberta received the Nobel Prize for Peace. When she was invited to the Netherlands by Queen Beatrix, her hair was long once again.

  • Economic recession and the forthcoming neo-liberal European governments of the 1980s have created a more economy-centred political debate. Along with these developments, Solidaridad has gradually realized that social rights are rooted in economic development, and thus the concept of fairtrade brought the two worlds together.

    In 1984, Solidaridad began a national campaign in the Netherlands for sustainable coffee that generated broad support throughout Dutch society.

  • In 1984, Solidaridad’s now retiring executive director Nico Roozen joined the organization as campaign manager. The following year, under his leadership and after intensive discussions with partners, Solidaridad officially chose to head in a new direction: from working on mobilization for social and political change to advocating economic development and opportunities.

    Photo: Nico Roozen is on the far right.

  • Solidaridad founded the Max Havelaar Foundation in 1988, hereby launching the first fairtrade label for sustainable coffee. Its successful launch in the Netherlands has helped to spark the global fairtrade movement. Two years later, Max Havelaar coffee was available on the international market.

  • In November 1988, Prince Claus of the Netherlands received the first Max Havelaar fairtrade coffee from Professor Jan Tinbergen. On the photo left is Jos Brink, who played in key role in the launch of Max Havelaar coffee.

  • Fairtrade was the answer of the 1980s to the ideological questions of the 1970s. Solidaridad hereby transformed ideological protest into an economic proposal for consumers, companies and farmers. New roles for consumers and producing companies were defined. The concept of corporate responsibility was also created at this time and still remains an important element of the present-day sustainability debate.

Campaigning for consumer awareness

Economic recession and the forthcoming neo-liberal European governments of the 1980s have created a more economy-centred political debate.

Along with these developments, Solidaridad has gradually realized that social rights are rooted in economic development, and thus the concept of fair trade brought the two worlds together. Promoting a better economic situation for poor producers in developing countries through higher consumer awareness of the issues became - and remains - a core strategy of fairtrade initiatives. 

Solidaridad founded the Max Havelaar Foundation in 1988, hereby launching the first fairtrade label for sustainable coffee. Its successful launch in the Netherlands has helped to spark the global fairtrade movement.

Developing certifications for sustainable production

In the early 1990s, fairtrade proved to be a concept which gained a high profile but ended up creating only a niche market, insufficiently supported by consumer preferences.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) became a driver for company strategic choices. Solidaridad responded with new certification strategies, not targeting consumer choices but aiming for responsible corporate behaviour instead.

CSR and certification initiatives have led to gradual change, starting with products with a high consumer profile, such as coffee, cocoa and textiles. In addition, although bulk commodities like soy, palm oil, livestock and sugar are hidden ingredients with a low consumer awareness, the expansion in these sectors is a major driver of deforestation. In this period, Solidaridad has embraced the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil initiative as a new step to create speed and scale.

  • Beyond certification: developing sector-wide approaches

    Solidaridad has gradually begun to recognize the limits of certification: it cannot fully impact all root causes of unsustainable production. Good government policies and an enabling economic structure are a precondition to sustainable production and cannot be directly created by certification.

  • Towards speed & scale

    At present, Solidaridad works on bringing sustainability solutions to ‘speed and scale’. Our decade-long expertise in the field has taught us that a broader approach is needed and it must be done by putting the needs of the primary producers at the heart of the strategy. The interests of the farmers and workers must be prioritized.