Review: Manifesto of the Poor – solutions come from below

Harriet Lawrence reviews Fairtrade pioneer Francisco Van der Hoff Boersma’s book, which details the founding principles of what is now a global phenomenon

Francisco Van der Hoff Boersma, co-founder of the Fairtrade certification, begins his Manifesto of the Poor with the immortal words from Gandhi: “be the change you want to see.”

This is precisely what this man did when he began fair trade as an alternative social development model, a system which demands democracy in business and equality in production. Today, Fairtrade goods are produced in over 60 countries.

While living among impoverished campesinos (farmers) in coffee plantations in Mexico, barely scraping enough money to live, Van Der Hoff began to develop the idea of fair trade as a new foundation for business.

His manifesto outlines his strong beliefs of what trade should be, exploring environmentalism, spirituality and happiness as things lost in the “cancer” of capitalism. As such, the book is less a description of fair trade and more an exploration of a new model for how we live our lives, and a desire to change society through an alternative economic system.


The fair trade ideal is a rejection of charity as much as a rejection of capitalism, believing it to paint the impoverished as objects rather than fellow humans. The manifesto berates: protest for protest’s sake; throwing money at problems for short term solutions; fear of the impoverished; and society run by the rich for the rich.

The movement has come a long way from small coffee cooperatives in Mexico, and with such passion and clear convictions supporting it, I’m left hoping it can further push our understanding of what makes a good world.

Manifesto of the Poor is published by Permanent Publications.