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Is Fairtrade political?

December 11th, 2018

On 8th December Fairtrade activists from Harrow, Brent, Ealing, Hounslow, Richmond and Kingston, led by the Harrow Fairtrade Campaign, met in Portcullis House, Westminster, hosted by Neil Coyle, MP for Bermondsey & Old Southwark.

The topic for discussion was ‘Is Fairtrade political?’ and the answer was a resounding ‘yes’.

Mr Coyle addressed the meeting at the start. He commented: “Yes Fairtrade is political. Fairtrade has always been political. It took years of campaigners’ hard graft to win more ethical trading. We must defend the hard fought wins and continue working together to win better terms for farmers in all countries as well as more ethically sourced products for UK consumers.”

With 22 people present, including many with direct experience of conditions in countries such as Ghana and Barbados, a lively debate followed.

Some of the key points were:

• Fairtrade is a great way that farmers of products such as cocoa can gain a fair income from their work through forming a more personal link to consumers in London who consciously support them by buying products with the Fairtrade logo. In the case of Divine chocolate, farmers do even better as they own 44% of the company and therefore benefit from dividends and an allocation of 2% of turnover as well.

• Fairtrade needs to broaden its range of products further and to move into manufactured goods.

• Fairtrade cannot do everything – governments in producing countries need to be more ambitious, encouraging producers to move up the supply chain into manufacturing.

• The UK Government in turn needs to put the needs of producers living in poverty at the heart of international trade agreements.

• Fairtrade requires a long term approach, for example seeking the support of Borough Councils through their procurement policies. The Fairtrade Olympics of 2012 were an example of the success of this approach.

• Fairtrade’s focus on education is another rewarding long term approach, so that future citizens demand greater fairness in trade.

The conclusion was a shared sense that Fairtrade is indeed political, as it is about power. The present system of world trade serves the interests of rich and powerful companies and countries better than the interests of the farmers and primary producers on whom we all depend.

Sophi Tranchell, CEO of Divine Chocolate and Chair of Fairtrade London commented: “It is a sign of success that Fairtrade is sometimes criticised for being political. It shows that it has challenged the unjust status quo of the world’s trade system.”

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