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Records of Oxfam's trading activities


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This record group contains records of Oxfam GB (formerly Oxfam and Oxfam UK/I) only.

The catalogue describes records generated by Oxfam's trading enterprises, covering Helping By Selling, Bridge and the Oxfam Fair Trade Company; Oxfam shops and volunteers; sales of stamps and coins; and Oxfam's recycling programme, Wastesaver. It includes board minutes, reports, correspondence, publicity materials, periodicals, photographic slides and product samples, including Oxfam Christmas cards.


  • Creation: 1948-2012 and n.d.


25.0 Linear metres (150 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English
  • French
  • Spanish; Castilian

English, French, Spanish

Conditions Governing Access

Some material is closed.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, where available, e.g. MS. Oxfam TRD/1/1/1].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MS. Oxfam TRD/1/1/1-MS. Oxfam TRD/13/1

Collection ID (for staff)

MS. Oxfam TRD


Records of Oxfam's trading activities.

Biographical / Historical

The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief was formed on 5 October 1942 at a meeting in the Old Library of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. It was one of several similar groups set up around the U.K. during the Second World War, in support of the National Famine Relief Committee, to lobby for the relief of suffering behind the Allied blockade in Greece and other countries under German occupation. The Oxford Committee initially raised funds to be channelled through the Greek Red Cross. Throughout the remainder of the war it also campaigned, unsuccessfully, for the lifting of the blockade to allow relief supplies through to starving populations. In March 1943 it was registered as a charity under the War Charities Act.

In the post-war years, the Oxford Committee remained in existence to raise funds and dispatch supplies of food and clothing to refugees and others in Europe through agencies such as the Salvation Army and the Save the Children Fund. In 1948 it broadened its aims to include 'the relief of suffering as a result of wars or of other causes in any part of the world' and turned its attention also to aid for refugees in the Middle East and people affected by conflict in Korea in the early 1950s. In the 1960s, it gained national recognition through its humanitarian response to war and famine in the Congo and Biafra. In 1965, the shortened telegraphic address, 'Oxfam', which had been used informally since the 1940s, was adopted as the charity's registered name.

During the 1960s Oxfam began to highlight the need in many countries for long-term development work to address the causes of poverty. It played a leading role in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's 'Freedom from Hunger' campaign, launched in the U.K. in 1962, which aimed to combat food shortages, not by giving food aid but by enabling people to grow enough to feed themselves. Oxfam's grants to local agencies for work in areas such as agriculture and public health increased throughout the decade. By the early 1970s, it was supporting 800 projects involving local communities, overseen by eleven Field Directors based in the countries concerned. Public education, campaigning and advocacy on issues affecting poor people also became a major focus for the organization at this time.

Today, advocacy and campaigning, development work to help poor people work their own way out of poverty, and humanitarian work in emergencies, assisting those immediately affected by conflict and natural disasters, remain the basis of Oxfam's programme. As a major, international non-governmental organization, Oxfam is a world leading expert in public health in emergencies.

In 1962, Oxfam was launched in Canada. Other Oxfams followed, in America, Belgium and elsewhere. Oxfam International, a confederation of non-governmental organizations, was formed in 1995. Oxfam GB, the organization founded in Oxford in 1942, and other national Oxfams are members of Oxfam International.

For further information see M Black, A Cause for our Times: Oxfam - the first 50 years (Oxfam and Oxford University Press, 1992).

Oxfam and Trading:

Oxfam Activities Ltd. was incorporated on 27 Nov 1964 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Oxfam. The trading company was set up because Oxfam itself could not engage in trading, due to its charitable status. It functioned in the same way as most commercial organizations, but covenanted all of its profits back to Oxfam. The establishment of the company provided a framework for the selling of manufactured goods such as Christmas cards and items bought through the Good Neighbours scheme and those imported from overseas, such as the Helping by Selling and, later, Bridge schemes. These products were sold in Oxfam shops, by mail order and wholesale. The company was also later responsible for the Wastesaver recycling scheme and other enterprises such as stamps and the sale of sanitation units.

In 1976, the company set up the Oxfam Activities Ltd. Board, in order to strengthen management of the business and allow it to play a growing part in the overall operation of Oxfam. This managed Bridge, Good Neighbour, Home and Christmas purchases, sales to shops, mail order and wholesale work, sanitation unit sales, Hambrolife insurance 'and a few other small things' which all, however, came under the wider legal entity of Oxfam Activities Ltd.. The board was made up of internal staff members and external experts. The Deputy Director of Oxfam was to chair, with the Director of Oxfam, the Finance Director of Oxfam, the Managing Director of Oxfam Activities, two members from the Oxfam Council, and an elected member of staff from the company also in attendance. By nomination, an external member from a consumer association, one with retail and mail order experience, and members with 'a special knowledge of the Third World' were also to sit on the Board.

On 17 March 1979, Council decided to rename the Oxfam Activities Board, Oxfam Trading, a division of Oxfam Activities Ltd., and this came into existence on 1 May 1979. It retained responsibility for Bridge, Good Neighbour, Home and Christmas purchases, sales to shops, mail order and wholesale work but was no longer responsible for Wastesaver. The decision was taken due to the confusion between the two Oxfam Activities boards, which had similar names and similar functions. Oxfam Activities Ltd. was a legal Board consisting of Sir Geoffrey Wilson and John Isherwood with Bruce Ronaldson as Secretary, which acted as a holding company for the Oxfam Activities Board. It was also thought that Oxfam Trading would be a better trading name for the functions. The first meeting of the Oxfam Trading Board was on 22 October 1979. Joe Mitty was Secretary to the Board. John Pirie became a Divisional Head responsible directly to the Director General of Oxfam. Oxfam Trading had moved to Bicester with despatches commencing on 5 June 1979. Oxfam Activities Ltd. is still in existence as a legal entity.

The transfer of shops from Home Division to Trading Division took place between 1 Oct 1992 and 30 April 1993. (See Executive Committee minutes 24 Sep 1992.) The first report to Council on the performance of the Trading Division incorporating shops' results from the Trading Division Director, Michael Vincent, was in Oct 1992.

Bridge, Oxfam's fair trade initiative and Britain’s first fair trade organization, was launched in Jun 1975 as a new subsidiary company of Oxfam Trading, with its own board of management. It grew out of Oxfam Trading’s 'Helping by Selling' initiative, formed in 1967, which traded goods produced in developing countries but, unlike Bridge, had no criteria for fair wages or producer development. Profits made by Bridge were divided between payments to the producer in proportion to sales (Producer Dividend), a fund set up for producer expansion and development (Expansion Dividend, later known as Development Fund Grants) and a fund for promotion of the Bridge concept in Britain (Education Dividend, later called the Information Dividend). In 1980, 25% of the profit went towards the Producer Dividend, 70% to the Expansion Dividend and 5% to the Education Dividend, although these proportions may have changed over time. The dividends were administered by the Bridge Committee and producers had to submit an application in order to receive an Expansion Dividend.

The Bridge Committee first met in January 1980, with Maurice Zinkin, an external member of the Oxfam Trading Board of Management, as its first president. Its aim was to review Bridge policy and the overall administration of Bridge work overseas, as well as working arrangements between Bridge, the Overseas Division and the Field Directors. It initially met four times a year, but in later years, met monthly, and reported to the Oxfam Trading Board. Its original membership comprised Maurice Zinkin; Archie Forbes; Malcolm Harper of the Cranfield School of Management; John Pirie, the Managing Director of Bridge; George Rogers, the Director of Oxfam Trading; Oxfam Overseas Director, Michael Harris, and Deputy Director of Oxfam and former Commercial Director, Guy Stringer.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Bridge idea was further developed with the appointment of staff based in Delhi and Dhaka and a Producer Assistance Manager / Designer. This era also saw increasing contact established with other alternative trading organizations, especially in northern Europe and America.

In the later 1980s, trading was extended in Latin America and Africa, while other developments included closer co-operation with the Overseas Division, an increase in overseas-based staff, greater emphasis on producer services and stricter criteria for sources. In 1986, an evaluation of Bridge by consultant Jonathan Stockland identified ambivalence within Oxfam as to its objectives regarding Bridge – whether it was a source of funds for Oxfam or an international programme which complemented Oxfam’s other activities.

In 1996, Bridge was renamed the Oxfam Fair Trade Company and continued importing goods directly from producers until 2001.


Oxfam's functions have remained fairly constant over many years, but a number of organizational restructurings have resulted in functions being transferred between departments and teams. To preserve continuity, records have been arranged according to function (in this case, trading) rather than department or team. The arrangement reflects the original filing system where that is apparent, and is usually chronological.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Oxfam donated its archive to the Bodleian Library in 2012.

Related Materials

Bodleian Library catalogues of materials relating to other Oxfam functions are available. These are Appeals and Fundraising (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam APL), Communications (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam COM), Campaigns (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam CPN), Development Education (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam DEV), Donated Collections (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam DON), Governance (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam GOV), Programme Policy, Management and Administration (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam PRG), Project Files (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam PRF) and Publishing (Shelfmark: MS. Oxfam PUB).


Catalogue of the Oxfam Archive: Trading
Finding aid prepared by Charlotte McKillop-Mash and Joan Clemens, based on an earlier finding aid by Rosie Dodd
Language of description
Script of description
Catalogued with the generous support of the Wellcome Trust

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom