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

What we have been able to say publicly is what I stated just now about the bottom line and the roll-over of existing agreements. As to the aspiration, plainly that must come through the work that will be done to develop individual arrangements with states post Brexit. I am not sure there is any more detail that I can provide at this stage. If there is on reflection, I will write to the right hon. Gentleman and make it clear.

Drew Hendry and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston asked what DFID already does, why we do what we do and whether we could do more. Perhaps I may take colleagues through the responsible, accountable and transparent enterprise programme that I mentioned earlier. RATE is our primary mechanism for promoting responsible and sustainable business standards. It works through providing accountable grants to organisations such as Fairtrade, the Ethical Trading Initiative and the ISEAL Alliance to work with businesses to improve their performance on the relevant issues. RATE also delivers DFID’s main offer on identifying and tackling modern slavery and child labour in global supply chains.

To go into some of the details, through Humanity United’s Working Capital fund we are providing seed funding to early-stage technology initiatives aimed at increased transparency in supply chains, including Provenance, an app that tracks the journey of a product from the source to the shelf. We are also partnering with ShareAction on the Workforce Disclosure Initiative, a global coalition of investors with more than $13 trillion of assets under management, which is demanding better data from its portfolio companies on workforce practices. DFID is also a founding donor of the World Benchmarking Alliance, the world’s first publicly available set of corporate benchmarks—to reinforce a point made by the right hon. Member for East Ham—that will rank multinational companies on their contribution to the sustainable development goals. Through our grant to the Ethical Trading Initiative, we are helping companies such as Tesco and ASOS to uphold the ETI base code to eradicate modern slavery in their supply chains and ensure that purchasing practices are fair. We are ensuring that workers at the bottom of the supply chain know their rights and can exercise their voice through worker participation mechanisms.

In all those ways, DFID is working to deliver what has been called for in this debate, and we intend to continue to do so. New opportunities are coming in the future. As the House will know, I am very much in favour of a deal—an agreement—that means that if we are to leave the EU, we leave it on good terms that are beneficial to us and to those we work with, and that maintain the highest standards. It should not be impossible to do that. The United Kingdom, both within the EU and outside it, will not get involved in a race to the bottom—or certainly not with the support of the Government and the vast majority of Members. Fair trade, and the work that is done on it, will be a good test of how the UK of the future moves forward and meets the challenges.

A thought has come to me about the question raised by the right hon. Member for East Ham. I assure him that we are maintaining access and considering opportunities to make improvements once we have left the EU. As I mentioned, I may write to him and clarify the matter further.

More trade on fair terms is a key engine of poverty reduction. The Government will build on their track record on trade for development, we will continue to be a champion of free and inclusive trade when others may have turned their backs on it, and we will not shy away from issues of injustice or exploitation where they arise in the system. We cannot do that alone, however. Real progress will be based on partnership between Government, business, and, of course, movements such as fair trade that focus public attention where it is needed. We must all work together to create a trade system that works for everyone, including the poorest, and that eliminates poverty through inclusive economic growth.