Promoters of fair-trade towns say their inclusive approach to developing and spreading ethical consumption will help solve wealth inequalities at the global, national and local levels.

"The fair-trade towns movement has so far been somewhat about numbers — about how many towns we can achieve . . . but it is time to heighten the quality of the movement," said Tatsuya Watanabe, organizer of the International Fair Trade Towns Conference that ended Sunday in the city of Kumamoto.

The eighth annual conference was the first held outside Europe. Kumamoto is the only Asian fair-trade town so far, having received the status in 2011. The next meeting will be held in July 2015 in Bristol, England, which acquired the fair-trade designation in 2005.

Fair trade is a consumer movement to support producers of coffee, cocoa for chocolate, bananas, handicrafts and other primary items in developing countries by paying a fair price. To date, the movement has 1,444 towns in 24 countries.

Towns get the designation by meeting a list of criteria, including official promotions for the local use of fair-trade products.

The Japanese steering committee also vowed in its "Kumamoto Declaration" to spread the concept of fair trade across Japan, Asia and the world.

"Becoming a fair-trade town is not the end, it's the beginning of the learning process," said Bruce Crowther, founder of the fair-trade towns movement that led to his hometown of Garstang, England, becoming the first declared fair-trade town in 2000.

"Fair trade is evolving all the time . . . one thing I've learned having come to Japan is that every country is different," said Adam Gardner of Britain's Fairtrade Foundation.

Fair trade, campaigners say, has grown from a niche market to boast estimated retail sales of around $7 billion worldwide.