Skip to main content

Fairtrade Farming

Volume 459: debated on Thursday 19 April 2007

4. What assessment he has made of the effect of the criteria attached to achieving Fairtrade status on the possible environmental benefits accruing from Fairtrade farming. (132357)

The Government strongly support the principles of Fairtrade. The environmental standards required for Fairtrade accreditation are, of course, a key element of the scheme, complementing the better prices, decent working conditions and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world, which are sometimes better understood by consumers.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. I have been working with Fairtrade campaigners locally to try to make Tooting a Fairtrade zone. One of the criteria that must be fulfilled before an area can be a Fairtrade zone is for the local council to pass a resolution in support of Fairtrade. Unfortunately, the majority group on Wandsworth council refuses to pass such a resolution. Does the Minister agree that Fairtrade initiatives and zones can help the Government’s aim of tackling environmental degradation globally and what does he think about the stance of Wandsworth council, which is preventing Tooting from becoming a Fairtrade zone?

I commend the extraordinary amount of work that my hon. Friend has done on this issue over a sustained period of time, galvanising the local community and really beginning to explain to people the benefits of Fairtrade and the importance of buying Fairtrade produce. It is nothing short of shameful that the Tory Wandsworth council is obstructing the move to make Tooting a Fairtrade zone. I wish him every success with the campaign. It is vital that these issues, which are not simply about justice and fairness, but which are, at their heart, about the environment as well, are taken seriously by all parties in the House.

Surely the Minister will have noticed that some supermarkets now sell only Fairtrade bananas because their customers have pressed for that. Surely it must be right that the good citizens of Tooting or Wandsworth, or wherever it might be, should seek to choose to buy Fairtrade and should not have it imposed upon them by the local council if they do not want that.

The hon. Lady clearly does not understand that this is not a matter of banning other produce from the whole of Tooting or Wandsworth. Free choice still prevails. But there are sometimes important symbolic issues in relation to a mark such as the Fairtrade mark, and to galvanise the people of Tooting to understand that is a commendable purpose. The measure would do nothing to stop people choosing freely in their supermarkets.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, while Fairtrade is a method of getting poor countries out of reliance on aid, when we are firming up those local economies, it is important to chime a note of caution to campaigners who campaign on food miles? Fairtrade economies are criticised for extending the use of food miles, and yet they are a way of creating sustainable communities in those areas.

My hon. Friend has raised an important point. The argument that there are more food miles involved is often used against produce from overseas. In fact, often more food miles are used up by people driving to the supermarket than by bringing that produce to market. It is an essential part of Fairtrade that we look at the whole supply system and the way in which produce is grown. It is right that we take into account all the environmental factors, including the energy used to produce goods and transport them to market, but the issue must be looked at in the round. He is absolutely right to raise that point.

Part of my extended family comes from an area in Kenya around Nyeri. The people there who produced sugar got into deep problems—the sugar refinery had to close eventually—because of the production of sugar beet in the EU. I know that that will be phased out, as will the subsidy. What are we doing to support fairly-traded sugar in such places as Nyeri, instead of giving subsidies for sugar beet production in the EU?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She will know that one of the real successes of the UK presidency of the EU last year was the reform of sugar subsidy and production. Many companies in this country have taken advantage of that. British Sugar maintains its quota and is looking to diversify into biofuels through that. There are many ways in which sugar farmers and companies can diversify their crops. The fundamental reforms were put in place during this Government’s presidency of the EU and they have brought about the prosperity in developing countries about which my hon. Friend talks.