Fairtrade at Westminster
1 CommentThursday, 2 March 2017 | Joanna
It’s Fairtrade Fortnight, the busiest time of the year for fair trade campaigners, and this is the first Fairtrade Fortnight since the referendum result of June 2016 which will fundamentally change the way UK businesses trade with the rest of the world.
Because nothing is yet decided about what Brexit will actually look like, now is a good opportunity to lobby decision makers in Parliament and help make the case for a fair deal for the developing world. The EU has always had a tendency to be protectionist and there is an opportunity for trade deals to be struck which help developing world producers sell their goods on the UK market.
It was in this positive mood that I met with a group of campaigners from across the UK on Tuesday. We met for lunch at the impressive Westminster Central Methodist Hall which gave me the opportunity to get to know some of the other representatives of Fair Trade groups, and catch up with some fair trade campaigners I have met before.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Fairtrade was set up during last year’s Fairtrade Fortnight after strong lobbying from Holmfirth based Fairandfunkyhttp://www.fairandfunky.com whose work on fair trade education is inspirational. It is chaired by Holly Lynch and Jason McCartney, MPs with neighbouring constituencies but from opposite sides of the house. The event was hosted jointly by the Fairtrade Foundation and the APPG as an opportunity for campaigners from the UK’s nations and regions to speak directly to Parliamentarians about our experience of fair trade and how we can work together to support fair trade. Tim Aldred, the Head of Policy at the Fairtrade Foundation, briefed campaigners in advance explaining that the main message for Parliamentarians was “Don’t feed exploitation”. The hard hitting video the Foundation has made featuring actors playing child labourers delivering cheap food into British homes is featured on our last blog post. It's important to understand how unfair conventional trading practices are, in contrast with the partnerships created under fair trade.
The positive message in favour of Fairtrade was to be delivered by Tanzanian coffee farmer Leonard Kachebonaho who talked about the impact that the Fairtrade premium has made in his community. He talked about schools, healthcare and improved agricultural practices but the most important thing to him was the fact that Fairtrade gives his community the choice of what to prioritise for investment. Fair trade puts people first and it is vital that producers and farmers like Leonard are able to come and tell their own stories in person. York Fair Trade Forum's main Fairtrade Fortnight event on 9 March will have to be changed due to last-minute visa issues with the Palestinian producers who were meant to come and speak to us. This is an important issue and Zaytoun are asking us to help raise awareness using the hashtag #NoVisaNoTrade.
Minister for International Development Rory Stewart MP spoke convincingly from his considerable experience in the developing world. He talked about the Government’s long term commitment to fair trade (£20million over 5 years) and his belief that fair trade is key to long term poverty reduction.
The event gave an opportunity to the Co-op to showcase their new policy on Fairtrade. The Co-op has committed to source 100% Fairtrade cocoa in all its own brand products from May 2017. This includes obvious things like biscuits, cake and chocolate bars, but also includes chocolate sprinkles on doughnuts and even cocoa used in fish finger batter to give a darker colour. It's great to see the Co-op reconfirm its commitment to fair trade and MPs were given the opportunity to take away free samples of new Co-op ranges of Fairtrade chocolate, biscuits and pink sparkling wine.
The event was attended by 45 MPs from four parties – Conservative, Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat. Traidcraft’s stall at the event was extremely popular with MPs taking away their leaflets outlining the dangers and possibilities posed to fair trade by Brexit. I heard one SNP MP pledge to lobby the catering department at Westminster to serve Fairtrade wine as it is already available at the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. He also mentioned fellow BAFTS member JTS as a shining example of how fair trade is a force for good.
One conversation in particular I found interesting: a researcher from the APPG on Landmines and Unexploded Weapons of Conflict had come along to find out how fair trade could help farmers in Angola and Mozambique. Once the landmines are removed, it is important that the land is used to grow crops and support local communities and he saw Fairtrade as a way forward for people living in areas where unexploded ordnance presents a present danger.
I came away feeling that there is strong support for fair trade among our representatives at Parliament and the grassroots campaigners remain committed to helping tell producer stories and promote the benefits. There is still reason to be nervous about the result of Brexit negotiations but there is a future for fair trade while we are working together to make it happen.