Towards Fair Trade for FOSS

Saturday December 03, 2022

As part of being involved in Apache, I got the opportunity yesterday to go to Brussels to attend the European Commission’s EC Open Source Workshops - Computing and Sustainability.

Me and The EU

Aside from my many years of involvement in the context of open source, in particular in the context of Apache NetBeans and the Friends of OpenJDK, I recently completed my LL.M Masters of Law at the University of Amsterdam in European Union Law (25 years after completing my LL.B Bachelor of Law in South Africa) especially because, aside from the academic side of it, I wanted to finally understand how the EU actually works, with all its institutions, etc, and, though I can’t say I really have a full grasp on it all yet (I doubt anyone really does), it was quite moving to be at one of the key pillars of that institution yesterday.

towards fair trade for foss pic1

To describe all the discussions that took place would be impossible, since I could only physically attend a few of them because many happened in parallel, it was great to meet several people I knew already from real life and virtually, such as Simon Phipps, Dirk van Gulik, Roman Shaposhnik, and Jarek Potiuk, as well as many other new people, there were just too many, from all different organizations, NGOs, local administrations, governments, etc, from within the EU and beyond.

towards fair trade for foss pic2

Each workshop consisted of a panel that kicked off discussions, with participants in the room being able to participate, ending with voting on the most important topics to carry forward and recommend to the European Commission.

towards fair trade for foss pic3


A key theme in the workshops I was in was the disconnect and misunderstandings between the public sector and industries on one side and open source on the other.

There have been many advances made in the sense that open source is now everywhere, though it is not everywhere in a balanced way nor supported and sustainable to the extent that is could or should be.

I keep seeing an image of the lone maintainer of an open source project in front of me, late at night, hacking away at code all for free that large enterprises and companies around the world simply consume and sell as part of their products. Not only is that an insecure and unsustainable situation there are clear moral and ethical aspects connected to that as well.

Carrot and Stick

Clearly there was quite some support for compelling the industry to make public its dependencies on open source, i.e., be compelled to list on their websites which open source technologies they’re using, how they are contributing back to those projects (and other open source projects), be compelled to push their changes upstream, and expose/explain what they are doing to enable their developers, in terms of time and money, to contribute to open source projects that those companies have integrated in one way or another.

A separate idea, not following the legal compliance road, would be some kind of fair trade accreditation scheme whereby a company would need to comply with certain standards, e.g., the above list for example, in order to get accredited with some level of FOSS fair trade certification, which would be a helpful way for FOSS-aware developers to make the right choices when looking for employment.

There is simply so much work in IT nowadays that, in fact, companies are now being interviewed by developers rather than the other way around, and one of the questions asked by a developer would be: "What is your FOSS Fair Trade Accreditation level?"

I’d love to be in a world where that question is asked and, though we’d need to be wary of bad actors and have some kind of mechanism for accreditation, and though it may not solve everything (that would be an unfair standard for any solution), it would certainly be a step forward.