Fairtrade

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:14 pm on 8th March 2007.

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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.