Fairtrade

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:02 pm on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 5:02 pm, 8th March 2007

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-5653, in the name of Christine May, on Fairtrade. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the focus which Fairtrade Fortnight gives to the local, national and global effects of fair trade; notes that this year's event is taking place from 26 February to 11 March 2007; welcomes the growing support in Scotland for fair trade, with 27 areas of Scotland having achieved Fairtrade status, including all of Scotland's cities; notes that all local authority areas have groups working to achieve Fairtrade status; further notes that 40% of people in Scotland regularly buy Fairtrade products and 75% buy a Fairtrade product every year; congratulates the Co-operative Group on providing the first Fairtrade cotton shopping bag; believes that Scotland should continue to campaign to achieve Fairtrade country status, and further believes that such campaigning not only empowers people in the developing world but also empowers the people of Scotland.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour 4:06 pm, 8th March 2007

I thank all members who signed the motion—and there were many of them—and all members who are here in the chamber. There would have been more had the transport arrangements for this evening not been slightly difficult for many people. I also thank all those in the gallery, who include representatives from the Co-operative movement and Oxfam. Oxfam was one of the founding members of the Fairtrade Foundation in 1992; its representatives are welcome, along with their guests from Uganda and Zambia.

Ten years ago, we would have struggled to find more than the odd packet of Fairtrade coffee on supermarket shelves. Now, thanks to the commitments made by the Co-operative Group some nine years ago, we can fill our trolleys with Fairtrade tea, coffee, bananas, rice and sugar. I should advise the chamber of my entry in the register of members' interests: I am a member of the Co-operative Party and the Co-operative Society.

These days, we could buy all those goods while wearing a Fairtrade T-shirt, and then carry it all home in a Fairtrade cotton shopping bag. Thanks to the establishment of the Fairtrade mark and Fairtrade produce, farmers and growers in some of the world's most disadvantaged countries can now command premium prices for their goods and services. Our supermarkets and their customers cannot seem to get enough of it. The money that the trade is generating is allowing farmers to invest in their communities—for example, in schools and educational equipment, in farm roads and in community facilities.

The trade goes way beyond tea bags in the local Tesco. The idea of guaranteeing poor farmers in developing countries a price and of giving them a social bonus on top grew out of the Fairtrade Foundation movement in 1992 and from the Co-op decision in 1994. The trade has now grown into a £290 million business with products ranging from footballs to tea and from cotton to honey. Although the market is not as big as the organic food market, year on year it is growing faster.

Members should remember that only nine years ago only the Co-op and Oxfam and some other small outlets were prepared to stock Fairtrade products. Now the big supermarkets are openly competing with one another to be seen to have a social conscience. That has reaped dividends for fairer trade. Sales rose by 46 per cent in 2006 to £290 million, and they should easily top £300 million in 2007. The Co-op has launched one million unbleached cotton shopping bags, which are intended to take the place of plastic bags. I hope to see many of my colleagues carrying them instead of briefcases.

All that is good not only for producers, but for the environment and for our standard of living as a whole. We throw away less. There are environmental issues associated with fair trade and we must not overlook them. We must consider food miles and the ethical and environmental considerations that go along with fair trade.

Food makes the largest single contribution to our ecological footprint. Much of that food travels long distances before it reaches our plates. It is interesting that, alongside the growth in the amount of Fairtrade food being bought, we have seen a parallel increase in the amount of locally produced and organic food being bought and consumed. We heard that last week in the chamber when we debated the organic food strategy. The promotion of the one has not had a detrimental effect on the other.

Of course, purchasing is all about choice. The consumer is free to make that choice and the Government has a role to provide good information and encouragement. I shall turn later to what the Government might do to give further encouragement. First, though, I want to say something about a common standard for ethical trade, and goods that might be described as fair trade or, as I understand it, that might be about to be described as "fair trade style", which I find very interesting. The role of the Co-op must not be overlooked. I congratulate the Co-op on selling fair trade products when no one else would touch them.

From around 150 Fairtrade products in 2003, there are now more than 2,500: yogurt; baby food; flowers; and the tea, coffee, bananas and footballs I mentioned earlier. Marks and Spencer has launched a range of Fairtrade cotton products, from rugs and bedding to childrenswear and men's shirts. During the first Fairtrade fortnight, the store took out a large number of huge full-page advertisements in quality newspapers such as The Guardian to advertise not just Fairtrade food and clothing but Fairtrade investment and insurance products. Yesterday, in the financial pages of the newspapers, an eight-page pullout carried lengthy articles analysing the financial success and growth potential of fair trade. The question is, has the commercial success of the movement had an impact on the wider development goals that it was designed to achieve? Other than in the retail sector, we have not yet seen an analysis of that. Perhaps the minister will comment on work that is being done to do that analysis. Fairtrade has also shown that the public are ready to engage with much wider global development issues. I congratulate Executive ministers and representatives of all parties on the work that they have done in international development.

We must take on board customer demands. There is a role for Government in Scotland and the United Kingdom. I turn to the vexed issue of public procurement and what we can do to ensure that public bodies procure as much as possible of goods that are produced locally and ethically, and of Fairtrade goods. I am aware that the Executive has issued guidance, but I am not sure of the extent to which that guidance is having an impact on what is being produced. Perhaps the minister will comment on that in her remarks.

We have targets to ensure that every local authority is working towards fair trade status, and we have seen examples of their work in which colleagues are involved. My colleagues will speak about that; I will not go through the long list because I do not want to steal their thunder—or, indeed, to pre-empt their press releases. We have a long-term goal, which is to ensure that 75 per cent of the population buy a Fairtrade product every year.

I would like our local authorities, our health service and our other public sector procurers to be given sufficient backing to take the risk and back fair trade. Often, the reason that is given for their not doing so is that they do not wish to take the risk. We in the Parliament and ministers in the Executive can send out a strong message to say, "We encourage you to take that risk." By doing that, we play our part in redressing the mass inequality that exists in the global market. When members and ministers in the Westminster Parliament go to world trade talks, it gives them impetus and the encouragement that they have mass support.

Scotland is playing an active role in making trade rules fairer for all, in reducing its ecological footprint and in ensuring that it supports not just its communities but the wider international community. I commend the motion to the chamber and look forward to the rest of the debate.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 4:14 pm, 8th March 2007

I thank Christine May for giving us the opportunity to have the debate. I do not think that the Parliament has missed a year of marking Fairtrade fortnight. In addition, there has never been a fair trade debate in the Parliament in which I have not mentioned Strathaven and Avondale. I am pleased to say that, tomorrow—yet again—14 schoolchildren from Avondale, who won the Fairtrade poster competition this year, will be coming to Edinburgh to see their national Parliament. They will be really pleased that we have held this debate.

I have noticed that it has started to become quite fashionable of late to criticise the Fairtrade movement. People have asked what difference a couple of extra cents makes, or a couple of extra soles for coffee in Peru, for instance, to refer to a recent criticism. That is fine—I can see why people want to be cynical these days. As far as I am concerned, however, if we are getting the idea of fair trade into the national psyche and if we are starting with schoolchildren such as those from Avondale who are coming through tomorrow, that is very important.

We must make fair trade thinking the norm and then take the wider issues into account, too. We all recognise that the issues around fair trade cannot be considered in isolation. There are trade justice and debt adjustment issues. There are also the World Trade Organisation rules—which I am always railing against—which actively work against real fair trade. That applies to copyright and intellectual property rules in particular.

I was horrified to learn the other day about a case involving a company in the United Kingdom. The Kikoy Company UK Ltd is trying to trademark an anglicised version of the word "kikoi", which would prevent kikoi producers in Kenya from selling their national dress in Europe. That is a piece of absolute nonsense. Members might remember a similar fuss over basmati rice a few years ago, when an American company tried to trademark the word "basmati" so that Indian producers could not use it or sell their product. That, too, was ridiculous.

Fair trade issues go much wider than small consumer goods. We are now talking about fair trade nationhood, which is wonderful. I was fortunate enough to question the minister about the matter last week at question time. I believe that, if we aspire towards fair trade nationhood, we must take it really seriously. It is about much more than tea, coffee and other consumables. The key, as Christine May suggested, is procurement by public bodies, with consideration being given to fair trade procurement where that is at all feasible, whether the fairness in trade relates to producers at home or producers overseas.

The minister said last week, in response to my question, that European rules preclude a lot of measures, but in fact it is not that simple. I looked at the Executive's procurement guidance, which, alas, relates only to catering. It details the Executive's view that fair trade requirements cannot be specified in tender documentation and says that Scottish Executive policy may only encourage. My first thought on reading that guidance was that we should have a go and challenge the situation. Then I came across the inquiry by the Westminster International Development Committee into fair trade and development. The committee was clear in asking whether existing Government guidelines work against fair trade, and it concluded that they do. After much study, the committee concluded that the UK—ergo Scotland—has got it very wrong. The Government does not do nearly enough to promote fair trade and, rather than enabling fair trade procurement, it constrains it.

Evidence that was submitted to the committee states:

"EU legislation is not concerned with what is being procured"— the stuff that goes out from Government in this country says that it is—

"but rather how it is being procured."

In fact, it is possible to make explicit reference to fair trade in contract documentation. The Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund and Oxfam in Scotland have sent us information on the matter. SCIAF notes:

"the contracting authority can procure whatever it wants", with

"the European Commission itself making such fair trade specifications without difficulty."

Oxfam notes:

"Madrid, in support of their bid for the Olympic Games, included a tender for a supply of fair trade t-shirts".

Oxfam also mentions moves by Bonn, Barcelona, Utrecht, Zuid-Holland, Lyon and Bilbao. On procurement rules, it says:

"The non-discriminatory thrust of EU rules is aimed against those member states that seek to give unfair advantage to their own national suppliers over suppliers from other member states within the European single market."

If authorities keep to those rules, it is not actually a matter of what they procure.

The Executive has often been accused of being overcautious in implementing and transposing EU directives. That is an argument for another day—we have had quite a few such arguments lately. The issue is far too important to be arguing over. We ought to work together to get it sorted. I would like to hear a pledge from the minister to study personally and carefully the results of the International Development Committee's inquiry; to ask for advice from organisations such as Oxfam and SCIAF; and to come up with a policy that ensures that, rather than being accused of paying lip service to fair trade when we go for fair trade nationhood, we genuinely become a fair trade nation in a way that people can be proud of and which will inspire others.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 4:20 pm, 8th March 2007

I congratulate Christine May on securing this important debate. I also congratulate everyone who is involved in Fairtrade fortnight.

These are exciting times for the fair trade movement, which has developed from a small movement a few years ago to a major player in Scottish retail. As Christine May's motion—which I, along with many others, have signed—says,

"40% of people in Scotland regularly buy Fairtrade products and 75% buy a Fairtrade product every year".

I have no doubt that those figures will have grown substantially when Fairtrade fortnight comes around again.

One of the matters that interests us greatly is the fact that the fair trade movement is a genuine grassroots movement. It is driven not by the state or by intra-governmental organisations but by ordinary men and women who have a passion to improve the lot of some of the world's poorest people. The moral case that Christine May advanced is well appreciated. The fair trade movement is a grassroots movement in the sense that it is up to individual communities to seek fair trade status, should they so wish. I am heartened to read in the motion that no fewer than 27 parts of Scotland have now achieved fair trade status. The pioneers of the move towards communities attaining fair trade status—Aberfeldy and Strathaven—deserve congratulations for leading the way.

Ultimately, however, the success of the fair trade movement depends on consumer choice, and rightly so. The onus remains on the fair trade movement to ensure that its marketing campaign, which has been exemplary, continues to attract new converts to the cause. I am sure that it will.

We would do well to remember that fair trade is about more than the Fairtrade logo and the sale of fairly traded products. It is also about ensuring fair and open trading conditions for all producers everywhere. That means taking action to end the grotesque protectionism that exists in the European Union and elsewhere in the west, much to the detriment of producers in the developing world. I am pleased that the aberration that was the common agricultural policy has been substantially reformed since we first debated the fair trade movement in the Scottish Parliament some years ago. However, much remains to be done to level the playing field between the European Union and developing nations to benefit the world's poorest countries. Unless Governments, including our own, take action to address that, the fair trade movement will not become the whole-hearted success that it deserves to be.

Despite the challenges, the fair trade movement has become a beacon of success in Scotland. I wish it every success during the remainder of Fairtrade fortnight.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green 4:23 pm, 8th March 2007

I congratulate Christine May on securing this debate and thank everyone who is working towards achieving fair trade nationhood for Scotland—particularly the people in the public gallery who represent some of the organisations that are involved in that effort.

Christine May mentioned that Oxfam and the Co-op are two of the pioneers of fair trade in Scotland. Perhaps predictably, I would like to add to that list another set of organisations: Scotland's universities, which have also done good work to promote fair trade.

At lunch time today, I attended Edinburgh University's celebration of the third birthday of its status as Scotland's first fair trade university. I am pleased that one of the requirements of fair trade nationhood is that 60 per cent of our tertiary education institutions should be fair trade institutions.

Back in 1992, I was involved in trying to get Edinburgh University Students Association to start purchasing fair trade coffee. It is stunning to think how far we have come since 1992, when we were trying to convince people that fair trade coffee—ethical coffee—did not mean Nicaraguan campaign coffee, which was always more of a political statement than a taste experience. Fairtrade roast and ground coffee now has 20 per cent of the United Kingdom coffee market. That is an amazing statistic. To come from being such a niche market—the kind of product that would be in the Oxfam shop or just a few jars in the Co-op—to 20 per cent of the market is stunning.

As a fair trade university, the University of Edinburgh is working hard to go further. Another speaker at the event today is its head of procurement. She said that her ambition is to get the jannies uniforms made out of fair trade cotton. She is pushing fair trade and looking for opportunities for fair trade products in every procurement deal—not only on the catering side, but in everything the university purchases. That attitude is what will lead to us becoming a fair trade nation.

I know that the minister has been making an effort, because I have heard the discussions at the cross-party working group on fair trade that has been set up to examine the procurement rules and how we interpret them. We are in quite a different situation from even five years ago. We have multiple suppliers of fair trade products. There are not only British suppliers but major European suppliers such as Max Havelaar. When there are procurement contracts, every fair trade company in Europe can compete on an equal basis. That seems to get round any potential European objections. Part of the issue is about clarifying the procurement rules and part of it is about changing the attitude of some procurement officers to ensure that they look for every fair trade opportunity available. That is what will lead us towards becoming a fair trade nation.

As Linda Fabiani said, there have been criticisms of the value of fair trade, but it is important because it starts a conversation about trade justice. It starts a conversation along the lines of, "If this product is fairly traded, what about all the other products? What about the global rules and the rules that the WTO imposes on world trade?" It starts a conversation about procurement and about social and environmental criteria that can be used in procurement. I have seen that at the University of Edinburgh, where we have a generation of students who have an awareness of, interest in and genuine concern about global trade and trade justice.

It is worth mentioning that the issues of trade, debt and aid have not gone away since Gleneagles. I was appalled to read in the latest issue of Jubilee Scotland's publication that the vulture fund Donegal International is trying to sue Zambia for $55 million. Donegal International claims that because Zambia's debt has been written off, Zambia should now repay debts that were run up in the distant past. That is indeed odious debt. That kind of action will undermine everything we try to do on fair trade in Scotland.

We must ensure that we talk about the wider agenda of trade, aid and debt.

It is also important to start thinking about fair trade here in Scotland. When I talk to farmers and hear their concerns about how their milk is sold in supermarkets and the fact that the prices they receive from those supermarkets are sometimes below the cost of production, I am struck by the similarity with the stories told by coffee growers in Zambia, Malawi or Tanzania. The conversation about trade fairness must include trade fairness at home as well as international fair trade. Then we can move beyond the immediate target of Scotland becoming a fair trade trademark nation to becoming a Scotland where all trade is fair. Fairtrade fortnight is justly celebrated in this Parliament as a vital step in that process.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 4:30 pm, 8th March 2007

I, too, thank Christine May for securing the debate. I also thank members around the chamber for their thoughtful speeches. I welcome all our friends in the public gallery and extend our collective apologies if some of them thought, as many of us did until probably mid-afternoon, that the debate would start at 5.

I welcome in particular two friends from Malawi who have joined us for the debate—Brian Namata from Kasinthula Cane Growers Ltd and Dyborn Chibonga from the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi, which is known as NASFAM. I welcome them both to the Scottish Parliament. They will join us for the reception that was due to follow immediately after the debate and which takes place at 6 o'clock. I doubt that this is the case, but if anyone in the chamber has any lingering doubt about the effect of fair trade, to which Linda Fabiani referred, they need only attend the reception to hear Brian and Dyborn talk about the effect that it has had on their lives and on their communities' lives.

It is probably fair to mention a housekeeping matter in connection with the reception's timing. If any of our friends is at a loss for what to do between the debate's culmination and the reception's beginning, officials who are on hand would be happy to show people round the Parliament if they have not been round before.

I very much welcome this debate on fair trade, which is of course timed to mark Fairtrade fortnight 2007. First, I recognise the incredible energy and enthusiasm of Scots around the country who have worked tirelessly to highlight fair trade in their communities. Fair trade is not just about two weeks of the year; it is about impassioned and sustained activism.

As we have heard from members around the chamber, campaigners everywhere have worked tirelessly to achieve fair trade status. I understand that in this fortnight alone, six organisations and communities in Scotland will receive that status, which might be for a zone, a city, a town, a village, a church, a university or a school. All such places are organising events to mark Fairtrade fortnight. They all deserve our thanks and support, because fair trade is not just about choosing one type of coffee over another. In answer to Christine May's point, I understand that more than 200 products are now in the Fairtrade range.

The reason why we are all involved in the movement is that fair trade saves and improves lives. It is about partnership between us in the north and the producers, who are often in the south. We must all embrace that if Scotland is to have a chance of becoming a fair trade nation.

In the past week and a half, I have had the opportunity to meet many fair trade supporters and stakeholders around the country. On Friday, I attended a summit of local authorities that East Ayrshire Council organised in Kilmarnock. I am delighted that one outcome of that summit is the establishment of a local authority network to share best practice around the country and to consider how local authorities can support one another.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

Does the minister agree that Aberdeen City Council is far ahead of other local authorities on fair trade and that its best practice could be followed elsewhere?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

A representative of Aberdeen City Council attended the event last weekend and I was pleased and heartened to hear the contribution that it makes. That council has arranged to share its ideas and practices with other local authorities. That mutual coming together and sharing of experience will help.

At the summit, we briefly discussed procurement, which many members have touched on. We have issued guidance to local authorities and others about what can be done under the current procurement regime. However, I have asked our officials to look again at whether scope for improvement exists and whether a further chance exists to push the opportunities that we have while of course operating within the law. The issue is fairly complex, but we are looking at it in detail. I hope that we will be able to provide something that is more robust than the existing guidance and which goes further, too. That is the intention.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

People always say that we should not ask a question unless we know the answer, but I really do not know the answer to this. What could the Executive do to encourage the likes of health boards to procure, for example, Fairtrade cotton for bedding? Could something further be done than just general encouragement?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

We are currently considering the issue of exactly how far we can go and how we can frame that guidance. That is work in progress. Through the Fairtrade group and others, I will keep Parliament informed.

During my visit to Kilmarnock, I heard about the work of Loudoun and Stewarton academies. Pupils from Loudoun academy have created and run their own fair trade group to promote and sell Fairtrade products around the school and the local community. Pupils from Stewarton academy are equally enthusiastic about promoting fair trade and recently hosted their own fashion show to highlight the inequalities of global trade. Those young activists are the next generation of responsible citizens, and they are being empowered at a young age by learning about how they can make a difference to those living in poverty in the developing world.

Fairtrade fortnight is all about raising awareness around the country. We are working closely with stakeholders and considering how best we can support the development of a Scottish fair trade forum to drive the implementation of the fair trade nation criteria. Raising awareness of fair trade is crucial. I was interested to note that, as part of a recent survey, the Scottish public were asked whether they recognised the Fairtrade logo, how much they felt they knew about it and what they thought that it represented. Some 64 per cent of those who were asked recognised the Fairtrade logo, as opposed to 52 per cent in a similar United Kingdom survey. Additionally, 62 per cent correctly associated the logo with the phrase "a better deal for third world producers", compared with the UK figure of 51 per cent. Those are really encouraging figures that show just how quickly the fair trade movement is growing in Scotland.

This year, we have had some really positive messages of support for the fair trade nation campaign. I personally thank the Fratellis, Gail Porter, the Proclaimers and Edith Bowman for their contributions, which are in the fair trade nation brochure that we produced. Having such role models for our young people can be enormously helpful.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green

The minister mentioned the growing recognition of the Fairtrade logo. Does she agree that one of the great strengths of the fair trade movement has been the fact that the Fairtrade Foundation is an independent body that can be relied on and which can give consumers a degree of confidence that, when they purchase a product with that logo on, it is a genuine fairly traded product? Does she share my concern about the current bandwagon jumping by other companies that sell products that are not fairly traded but, as Christine May said, of "fair trade style"?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I agree entirely with Mark Ballard. I was concerned to hear about the development of something that might be called "fair trade style". I must say that I do not have a clue what that could possibly mean, but I urge anyone who sees it to beware and to steer clear.

Last weekend, I attended the fair trade experience in Glasgow. The event has been held for a number of years, but it is fair to say that this year's event was the biggest so far. I was heartened to see that, so great was the crush of people who wanted to visit the fair trade experience, the hall's staff had, at one point, to limit the number of people who were going into the hall to the number who were going out, so that they did not exceed the fire regulations limit. It was also heartening to see the number of families and older people who had come along to see what it was all about because they had a personal interest in fair trade. We must take a lead in continuing that momentum.

Last week, I was lucky enough to meet the first UK leg of global journey, more than three years after it set off from Mumbai, travelling through 50 countries including Malawi. That fantastic symbol of the global fair trade movement shows just how many people around the world are joining the fight against poverty.

We are all determined to work in partnership to ensure fair trading conditions for workers in the developing world. Partnership is at the centre of our international development work.

Fair trade can also help to bring Scotland and Malawi closer together. Trade is a truly sustainable way for Malawians to escape poverty and build a better life for themselves. Through the international development fund, the Scottish Executive is supporting the work of Imani Enterprise, a fair trade consultancy with offices in Scotland and Malawi, to encourage sustainable, mutually beneficial trade between the two countries and to help promote Malawian products in Scotland.

We are providing more than £200,000 for a project that will help to develop Malawi trade policy, by identifying and then training Malawian producers to access export markets and by showcasing Malawian products in Scotland via a Malawi trade fair, thereby opening up the Scottish market. That will make a key contribution to our commitments on sustainable economic development in our co-operation agreement with Malawi. That will not only help to develop Malawi's economy, but, we hope, result in greater sales in Scotland of fairly traded goods from Malawi such as tea, coffee and nuts. I should also say that members will be able to sample some of those goods at this evening's reception.

Raising awareness of fair trade is hugely important, as is developing an understanding of the wider issues of trade justice, but the problem of global inequality can be solved only by taking action. I am delighted that there is such enthusiasm for fair trade in Scotland—and across the political spectrum in particular. However, we must not rest on our laurels because we have so much more to do. I look forward to working closely with members in the future on helping to make Scotland a truly fair trade nation.

Meeting closed at 16:41.