Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 2nd March 2016.
I, too, congratulate Fiona McLeod on what has been a very good parliamentary career and on securing time in Parliament for this debate.
Governments around the world are looking to trade as a driver of economic growth and poverty reduction, and trade is central to the sustainable development goals that make up the new global poverty reduction and sustainability framework that has been adopted. However, as we are all aware, trade can be something of a blunt tool that can harm as well as help poverty reduction. We must ensure that the policies of government, be it at local, Scotland or United Kingdom level, join up with those goals to ensure that we do not undermine the needs of the poorest people in our world. Otherwise, we could be giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
Trade also brings something that might be even more important than poverty reduction: it empowers people and encourages entrepreneurs to start smallholdings and take control of their own lives. By ensuring that such farmers, many of whom live in the least-developed countries in our world, can produce and sell their goods to fair and decent standards, we also give them a better chance in life. Those farmers are usually members of co-operatives that have their own elected representatives, which facilitates decision making on how profits are spent. That system has had tangible benefits for small-scale farmers, and profits that have been raised have often contributed to building schools and roads and other structural improvements—including, of course, new water wells and irrigation—that have been prioritised by the community.
Fairtrade products often taste better. I refer particularly to the bunches of small yellow bananas in cellophane bags, which always seem to be better than the other ones. I do not know why.
The effects of fair trade practices are clear for all to see. There are now 1,210 Fairtrade-certified producer organisations in 74 countries worldwide, and more than 1.5 million farmers and workers in Fairtrade-certified producer organisations.
Scotland’s contribution to that effort is notable. In order to be recognised as a fair trade nation, Scotland had to meet a number of criteria to demonstrate that people had sufficient knowledge of and interest in fair trade. As part of that process, it was found that 100 per cent of counties and local authority areas had active fair trade groups that were working towards Fairtrade status, and that at least 55 per cent of local authorities and all cities achieved Fairtrade status. Highlands and Islands, which is my region, is a fair trade zone, and Oban, which is my local town, became a Fairtrade town in 2006.
As a fair trade nation, Scotland has been a key contributor, which has helped to maintain momentum for the cause. The Scottish Fair Trade Forum has been crucial in engaging businesses and suppliers across Scotland in embracing the principles of fair trade. I am pleased to see that the West Coast Delicatessen in Ullapool is on a four-page list of fair trade suppliers, which goes on to include Marks and Spencer in Inverness, for example.
The situation should not be taken for granted. Many farmers who supply necessities such as food and clothing for consumers—they are basic needs that we have come to take for granted—are too often left without those items themselves. Producers are sometimes forced to work for genuinely exploitative employers without the essential employment rights or, indeed, human rights that we have been accustomed to in the western world. Fundamentally, fair trade provides vital protection and support for those producers. Producers have even gone as far as to say that farming would be impossible without it.
Fair trade does exactly what the name suggests; it is about making trade fair and ensuring decent working conditions and wages. That, in turn, leads to individuals having more control over their own lives and gives them dignity and respect.
Every member of the Scottish Parliament, member of the public and consumer worldwide has the opportunity to contribute to the effort by adapting their everyday choices. I very much hope that people will continue to do so.