Fairtrade

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:23 pm on 8th March 2007.

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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.