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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:26 am on 18th December 2018.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Joint with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 10:26 am, 18th December 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As we have heard, there is a huge amount of common ground on this topic. I congratulate Liz Twist on securing this debate on both Traidcraft and the future of fair trade generally, and I thank other colleagues for their contributions. I congratulate her in particular on the way she set out the relationship between Traidcraft and her constituency and those around it, and how Traidcraft’s values have infused people in her constituency and beyond. That shone out from the debate generally.

I suspect very few Members have not had a connection with Traidcraft and fair trade over the years we have been engaged in public life. I am sure many of us have been in draughty church halls and seen the work that is done. Stephen Timms illustrated vividly how we can turn those draughty church halls and book stalls into policy change in relation to fair trade. What he said about Sainsbury’s in Saint Lucia is a dramatic demonstration of what can be done when people set their minds to something. A thousand different opportunities picked up around the country can make a significant change. It was wonderful to hear that example. I think some people still feel as though all the big decisions in the world are made by remote organisations and worry about whether they can influence things. That is at the heart of queries about democratic practices, not only in this country but throughout the western developed world. That is an example of something good that can happen very much at grassroots level.

I am pleased also that tribute was paid to my good friend, Ram Gidoomal, who has been an influence on a variety of positive issues in this country for many years. I am delighted that such a friend of many decades is able to listen attentively to this debate. We certainly appreciate his relationship with Traidcraft and all he has done with it over the years. In my constituency, I have been to St Andrew’s Church many times with the Fairtrade group in Biggleswade, and churches throughout north Bedfordshire—particularly North Bedfordshire Methodist Circuit—have been very involved. We can pay tribute to those who have acted locally and nationally on this.

Let me proceed with my remarks, into which I will incorporate some of the comments made by colleagues. When Traidcraft was created in 1979, we undoubtedly lived in a very different time. Today’s hyper-interconnected world was just emerging, and more business was carried out using locally sourced products. Now companies operate through a complex and sophisticated web of supply chains that span the planet. Products are created and assembled across multiple jurisdictions, and delivered to our front doors within hours of us purchasing them online. We have much more understanding of who is creating the things we buy, and about the lives they live and the challenges they face. At the sharpest end, that leads to images of children working in sweatshops, or the appalling Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh.

Today, ethically minded consumers shop in line with their values in numerous ways, for example by following a vegan diet, buying organic cotton or using social enterprises. The ethical market in the UK is now worth £81.3 billion per annum. Millennials, in particular, are spearheading the idea that companies should operate in a responsible way, and 66% say that they would pay more for sustainable brands—that paragraph was undoubtedly written by one of my millennials, but those of us who are older also recognise that we played our part in the past by supporting Traidcraft and Fairtrade, and the way they got going. There is no doubt, however, that that pioneering work by the previous generation has been well picked up by the millennials of today, and we congratulate them on taking it forward. In the late ’70s, Traidcraft was one of the first organisations to shine a light on the working conditions of those who made our products. That is a vital legacy, and a theme that continues through the work of commerce today.