Our history

Since our formation in 1969, Solidaridad has closely followed the socio-economic developments in the field of international cooperation, often leading the way with innovation in promoting and fostering sustainable economic development.

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

With the subsequent economic recession and neo-liberal European governments of the 1980s Solidaridad began to realize that social rights are rooted in economic development. The concept of fair trade brought these 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 fair trade initiatives. 

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

Although the fair trade movement gained a high profile, it created 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. 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. That’s why, Solidaridad embraced the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil initiative as a new step to create speed and scale.

Solidaridad recognizes 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.

At present, Solidaridad works on bringing sustainability solutions to ‘speed and scale.’ A critical component of this approach lies in our network structure, established in 2010. Our decade-long expertise in the arena 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. We must prioritize the interests of the farmers and workers.

Solidaridad through the years

Adapting in an unprecedented year

In a year of unprecedented change and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the inequity and burden on workers, especially at the base of the pyramid, were laid bare. As Solidaridad adapted operations and programming to ensure staff and beneficiary safety and access to prevention information and resources, the year also helped shape the final iterations of the 2021-2025 strategic plan: Reclaiming Sustainability. 

50 years

Solidaridad celebrates its 50th anniversary: a good moment to reflect on the past 50 years in our sustainability and development work. The world has changed irrevocably and much good work has been done by organizations in the sustainability field. But many challenges remain and the future is uncertain.

Ambition 2020

Solidaridad launches Ambition 2020: Climate change and the health of workers are among the prominent international themes that have influenced Solidaridad’s work. With a new strategy and ongoing organizational growth, Solidaridad continued the work of meeting the challenges ahead through building upon a history of achievement, including major results which had already been reached for farmers, miners and workers.

A global network

Solidaridad transitions to a network structure – after 34 years, ecumenical cooperation with churches came to an end and the Solidaridad Network was officially founded. This shift meant the implementation of a new legal structure, involving shared policy and management responsibilities, and global governance by a network-wide board of directors. Local cooperation with ecumenical partners continues to date.

Transformative change

Solidaridad makes its first moves towards a transformative change from its role as a Dutch development organization to a global network, with the decentralization of programmes to six regional offices.

Roundtables for development

Solidaridad co-founded and became an active member of supply chain roundtables for policy development and cooperation. Through these efforts, Solidaridad has supported mainstream, business-driven initiatives that strive to include all stakeholders. Among these global roundtables are: RTRS (soy), Bonsucro (sugarcane), BCI (cotton), GRSB (beef), WBF (banana) and RJC (gold). These global sector initiatives are still one of Solidaridad’s core intervention strategies.

Assessing sustainability

Solidaridad established the Made-By Foundation, an alliance of more than 30 fashion brands committed to more sustainable production. The spread of the Made-By concept was particularly successful in the UK and the Netherlands, especially the innovative ‘scorecard’ developed to assess the sustainability performance of brands.

Accessible CSR

In 2002, Solidaridad reached an agreement with the Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn to turn their company label Utz Kapeh into a generally accessible CSR concept with a more professional structure and way of working. The coffee roaster Douwe Egberts joined the initiative and soon after, many more coffee roasters around the world followed the example. The product range was expanded and Utz Certified became a world player in this market. More recently, Utz Certified and Rainforest Alliance began the process towards a merge, which resulted in the largest certification label in the world market.

Sustainable fashion

Solidaridad established Kuyichi, the first sustainable, high-end fashion company in Europe. In the 1990s and early 2000s, corporate social responsibility (CSR) became a driver for company strategic choices. Solidaridad thus responded with new certification strategies, not targeting consumer choices but aiming for responsible corporate behaviour instead.

AgroFair is launched

Solidaridad established AgroFair, a company importing and distributing fresh fruit and co-owned by banana producers in Africa and Latin America. This led to the successful introduction of Fairtrade EKO and organic EKO OKÉ bananas into the European market.

Fair trade grows

Solidaridad co-founded a network organization for fair trade initiatives in Europe, culminating in the establishment of Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO). This helped to further spread fair trade labelling across Europe and the world.

However, in the early 1990s, fair trade proved to be a concept which gained a high profile but ended up creating only a niche market, insufficiently supported by consumer preferences. The market share of many fair trade products did not reach 5%, believed to be the minimum threshold to transform the market.

The first fair trade label coffee

Solidaridad founded the Max Havelaar Foundation and launched the first fair trade label for sustainable coffee. The successful launch of fair trade coffee within the Netherlands helped spark the global fair trade movement.

Advocating for economic development

Nico Roozen joined Solidaridad (becoming Director until 2019, and then Honorary President) and the organization began a national campaign for sustainable coffee that generates broad support throughout Dutch society. 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.

Grassroots movements

Protestant churches joined Solidaridad to constitute a unique, formal ecumenical organization known as the Solidaridad Foundation. This resulted in ecumenical cooperation in support of grassroots movements in Latin America in and outside of the churches.

Solidaridad begins

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 for development cooperation.