Traidcraft and Fair Trade — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:11 am on 18th December 2018.

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Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 10:11 am, 18th December 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate Liz Twist on securing this important debate on a subject that I am sure we all have a great level of agreement about. She talked about the personal significance of Traidcraft to her as a customer, the future of fair trade and the importance that Traidcraft has had for women in affected communities. The lives that have been changed in those communities show how important it has been.

The hon. Lady also talked about the ability of the products to reach thousands of homes and communities, and the sense of the overarching campaign for justice that is included in fair trade. Very importantly given the situation at Traidcraft, she talked about encouraging people to buy from Traidcraft in the run-up to Christmas, and the fact that it need not be a time of real darkness because there are hopes that, through restructuring, it can look to a brighter future.

Jim Shannon, who is no longer in his place—he explained that he had to leave—talked about companies such as Traidcraft bringing some light into a highly competitive, sometimes uncaring market. He spoke about his father and the need to think about the needs of others—the importance of an ethical approach to retail that sometimes becomes a bit lost in society these days. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the importance of fair wages and working conditions, wherever those people may be—something we should all keep working together on. He talked about the need to challenge the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” approach to retail that can sometimes pervade.

Jeremy Lefroy talked about fair trade being brought to supermarkets and the role—repeated by others—of the co-operative movement in facilitating that. Stephen Timms made an interesting speech about the fact that St Lucia’s economy was, in effect, saved by Sainsbury’s decision to sell only its bananas. He also paid tribute to the co-operative movement for leading the way and talked about the gradual expansion of fair trade and Traidcraft’s role in that expansion throughout the nations of the UK. He asked the Minister to uphold the values that have been set for the future in his work. I am sure we will hear about that.

Scotland is a fair trade nation. I proudly represent a fair trade city in a region with a fair trade local authority. Inverness became a fair trade city in 2006 and is proudly joined by the highland fair trade communities of Skye, Broadford, Ullapool, Strathpeffer, Dornoch and Dunvegan. As a good global citizen, Scotland has always been committed to playing its part in addressing poverty and fair trade at home and afar, and was one of the first countries in the world to be named a fair trade nation. However, I must give a special mention for Wales, which was the first ever fair trade nation, gaining its accreditation in 2008.

In Scotland, the Scottish Fair Trade Forum has been particularly instrumental in driving forward our fair trade nation agenda. We believe in encouraging business to play its part in promoting and respecting human rights, working with partner countries to support development through trade. Transparency is vital to ensure that our trade policy is carried out in a way that is beneficial to all nations of the UK and consistent with international development goals.

It takes serious commitment for a nation to achieve fair trade nation status. In Scotland, those commitments included all seven Scottish cities and at least 55% of local authority areas having fair trade status; all 32 local authority areas and at least 55% of towns with a population of 5,000 or more must have active fair trade groups working towards fair trade status. The percentage of those with fair trade status is now at 80%. Similarly, at least 60% of higher education institutions must have active fair trade groups working towards fair trade status.

In addition, the Scottish Parliament and Government must use, promote and make available Fairtrade products internally, and actively promote Fairtrade fortnight each year. Fair trade has to be promoted in schools through the curriculum, procurement and other possible means. Schools, further education institutions, faith groups, trade unions, business networks and voluntary and youth organisations must pledge to use and promote fair trade; finally, 75% of people must buy a Fairtrade product every year, and 40% of people must regularly buy Fairtrade products.

A commitment to fair trade is not about just qualifying for a status; it is an ongoing commitment to tackling poverty across the world and support those worse off than ourselves through the promotion of Fairtrade products. In Scotland, the drive to become a fair trade nation took commitment from people, Government, businesses, public bodies and community, and cross-party work from politicians across Scotland to promote fair trade. It is organisations such as Traidcraft, as we have heard, that have led the way to allow that to happen, which is why we are all deeply saddened by the difficulties it has been going through.

In a briefing for this debate, the Fairtrade Foundation described the Traidcraft plc. approach to fair trade as:

“an inspiration to many and the approach that it pioneered in 1979 is now also being taken forward by other brands and businesses that choose to trade fairly. The wider Fairtrade sector, owes a great debt to Traidcraft and their many volunteers, especially within the faith communities, and the Fairtrade Foundation wishes them every success with the plan proposed last month for a slimmed-down Traidcraft with fair trade, community buying, transparency and ‘market disruption’ at its heart”.

I am sure we all share those sentiments. Traidcraft’s contribution to fair trade has been wide reaching and felt across the world. As we have heard, it was one of the founding members of the Fairtrade Foundation, which was established in 1992 with a vision to make trade fair and to secure a better deal for farmers and workers. It has educated us, enabled us and ensured that fair trade has remained on the political agenda in all the nations of the UK.

Others have mentioned that Traidcraft, which is based in Gateshead’s Team Valley, put 67 of its 68 staff on notice of redundancy in September after a series of factors caused it to lurch into a financial crisis. In early November, it announced a rescue plan in which the company will slash its product lines and keep just 12 employees to stay afloat. I wish, as I am sure everyone here does, the management all the success with the recovery plan. I hope—and believe—that this iconic organisation can have better times ahead. I also hope that in his response, the Minister will share the action that his Government are taking to support Traidcraft through these extremely trying times, especially given that the chief executive officer cited Brexit as one of the main factors in its recent difficulties.