Fairtrade

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:06 pm on 8th March 2007.

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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.