It’s Fairtrade Fortnight, the busiest time of the year for fair trade campaigners, and this is the first Fairtrade Fortnight since the referendum result of June 2016 which will fundamentally change the way UK businesses trade with the rest of the world.
Because nothing is yet decided about what Brexit will actually look like, now is a good opportunity to lobby decision makers in Parliament and help make the case for a fair deal for the developing world. While currency fluctuations have made life extremely difficult for all our members who deal direct, and it’s inevitable that costs will have to be passed on to shops and then to customers, perhaps the more long term consequence of Brexit will be the tariff and non-tariff barriers the UK chooses to apply to imports. The EU has always had a tendency to be protectionist and there is an opportunity for trade deals to be struck which help developing world producers access the UK market.
It was in this positive mood that I met with a group of campaigners from across the UK on Tuesday. We met for lunch at the impressive Westminster Central Methodist Hall and as well as getting to know some of the other representatives of Fair Trade groups I managed to catch up with old friends including Elen Jones from Fairtrade Wales and Adam Gardner from the Fairtrade Foundation – both of whom have spoken at BAFTS Conferences.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Fairtrade was set up during last year’s Fairtrade Fortnight after strong lobbying from Holmfirth based FairandFunky whose work on fair trade education is inspirational. It is chaired by Holly Lynch and Jason McCartney, MPs with neighbouring constituencies but from opposite sides of the house. The event was hosted jointly by the Fairtrade Foundation and the APPG as an opportunity for campaigners from the UK’s nations and regions to speak directly to Parliamentarians about our experience of fair trade and how we can work together to support fair trade. Tim Aldred, the Head of Policy at the Fairtrade Foundation, briefed campaigners in advance explaining that the main message for Parliamentarians was “Don’t feed exploitation”. Most of you have already seen the hard hitting video the Foundation has made featuring actors playing child labourers delivering cheap food into British homes. So-called negative campaigning is controversial within fair trade, but I certainly feel that it is impossible to sell the message that fair trade can make a difference until consumers have a real understanding of what unfair, conventional trade really involves.
The positive message in favour of Fairtrade was to be delivered by Tanzanian coffee farmer Leonard Kachebonaho who talked about the impact that the Fairtrade premium has made in his community. He talked about schools, healthcare and improved agricultural practices but the most important thing to him was the fact that Fairtrade gives his community the choice of what to prioritise for investment. Fair trade puts people first and it is vital that producers and farmers like Leonard are able to come and tell their own stories in person. Several of the campaigners I spoke to had experienced last-minute visa issues with producers and Fairtrade Fortnight events have had to be changed. This is an important issue and Zaytoun are asking us to help raise awareness using the hashtag #NoVisaNoTrade.
Minister for International Development Rory Stewart MP spoke convincingly from his considerable experience in the developing world. He talked about the Government’s long term commitment to fair trade (£20million over 5 years) and his belief that fair trade is key to long term poverty reduction. I felt that he had a real understanding of the issues surrounding fair trade and hope he is able to represent the case for fair trade in his department.
The event gave an opportunity to the Co-op to showcase their new policy on Fairtrade. The Co-op has committed to source 100% Fairtrade cocoa in all its own brand products from May 2017. This includes obvious things like biscuits, cake and chocolate bars, but also includes chocolate sprinkles on doughnuts and even cocoa used in fish finger batter to give a darker colour. In recent years the Co-op has struggled to survive and define itself in the fast moving grocery sector and it is fantastic to see how central Fairtrade is becoming in its plans. MPs were given the opportunity to take away free samples of new Co-op ranges of Fairtrade chocolate, biscuits and pink sparkling wine.
The event was attended by 45 MPs from four parties – Conservative, Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat. Traidcraft‘s
stall at the event was extremely popular with MPs taking away their leaflets outlining the dangers and possibilities posed to fair trade by Brexit. I heard one SNP MP pledge to lobby the catering department at Westminster to serve Fairtrade wine as it is already available at the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. He also mentioned BAFTS member JTS as a shining example of how fair trade is a force for good.
One conversation in particular I found interesting: a researcher from the APPG on Landmines and Unexploded Weapons of Conflict had come along to find out how fair trade could help farmers in Angola and Mozambique. Once the landmines are removed, it is important that the land is used to grow crops and support local communities and he saw Fairtrade as a way forward for people living in areas where unexploded ordnance presents a present danger.
I came away feeling that there is strong support for fair trade among our representatives at Parliament and the grassroots campaigners remain committed to helping tell producer stories and promote the benefits. There is still reason to be nervous about the result of Brexit negotiations but there is a future for fair trade while we are working together to make it happen.