Cookies: We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. By continuing to use the site you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more.

House of Commons Hansard
07 March 2018
Volume 637

  • I beg to move,

    That this House has considered support for fairly traded goods.

    It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and to be the standard bearer for fair trade in Fairtrade fortnight. I do that as a proud Co-operative and Labour, as well as Welsh, MP.

    Ten years ago, Wales became the first fair trade nation in the world. Swansea is a fair trade city. Four out of five local authorities in Wales are fair trade, as are all the churches and 150 of the schools, which represents 20% of the stock of fair trade schools in Britain. We take fair trade very seriously in Wales, as do others, because the world trading system is rigged in favour of the more powerful players, be they multinationals or big countries, arranging trade agreements in their own interest. As the Minister knows, fair trade is about giving a fair price, fair living standards and sustainable situations for smaller producers in Fairtrade-accredited industries.

    People will know about the example of bananas. I am sure that, like me, you enjoy a banana, Sir David. Bananas are the most popular fruit in Britain and around 6 billion are consumed here each year. Fairtrade bananas, which are now commonplace in supermarkets, show that the right price is paid. That is translated into working conditions, living wages, the permission to have organisational safety standards and, often, a Fairtrade premium, which can be invested in schools and education. Fairtrade farmers say that that generally increases their income by 34%.

  • I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this issue forward. Does he agree that this £2 billion annual enterprise does so much good and that the message must be sent that an extra 5p or 10p for a fair trade product does not make any difference to us in this country, but means life or death for the farmer, who is getting a fair price for his goods, so we do not mind paying that?

  • I very much agree. A small increment in the price in the supermarket makes a massive difference to the take-home pay of the producers, who are often exploited. The hon. Gentleman knows that a third of the world’s population live on less than $1 a day. We must ask, who are those people? How can we help them? How significant is that help? A few pence on the price of a banana makes a massive difference.

  • My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech, and I congratulate him on securing the debate. It is Fairtrade fortnight, which presents a fantastic opportunity relating to his point about knowing who benefits. I congratulate the Fairtrade Foundation and others that host fair trade producers in the UK so that those producers can share their stories. Those stories are incredibly powerful and bring fair trade to life for lots of consumers in the UK. As much of that work that we can do, the better. It really does bring this issue to life for people.

  • I agree with my hon. Friend. We can do a lot in this place to secure and augment fair trade through our trade negotiations, but ultimately consumer power is what really puts pressure on politicians and on producers to produce fairly. People understanding their choice about a product makes a real difference at the coalface, the banana plantation, the tea plantation or whatever. When people make those choices, they make a difference. In turn, producers will change their minds and Governments will listen. Those organisations, keeping hope alive, keeping the campaign going and awareness are all crucial to create a better world, which otherwise will be naturally fixed in favour of the larger, more powerful players.

    I am not going to go through all the markets, as time does not permit, but people will be familiar with gold, which symbolises love, power and wealth, but not for the people producing it. They may be in appalling conditions and having to use mercury and other toxic and hazardous products to process that gold. Therefore, it is important to have minimum prices, living wages and environmental conditions such as clean air. Those are underpinned by fair trade standards and are, again, why fair trade is so important.

    I am a Member for the Co-operative party—a big group in Parliament. From the outset, the Co-op party has been instrumental in changing the way businesses are delivered in the interests of both workers and consumers. It has been a pioneer of the fair trade movement and wants to see it going forward. I am proud of that and want the Government to encourage more co-operatives alongside fairer trade.

  • The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case for fair trade. Will he join me in recognising the important role of local groups, such as those in Selkirk and Melrose in my constituency, which do so much to promote fair trade? I will visit Selkirk’s Fairtrade pop-up shop on Friday, which will be promoting Fairtrade products. In addition, young people play an important role in educating society and the wider community about the importance of fair trade. Does he agree that young people are the great champions and ambassadors of fair trade and should be encouraged?

  • I completely agree. I support the local initiatives that the hon. Gentleman mentioned and the granular approach to fair trade. Ultimately, we as individuals, buying bananas, coffee, gold or whatever, will have a direct impact on the livelihoods of small families producing those products elsewhere.

    As the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) suggested, young people with their lives ahead of them often think about what is right and wrong in this world, and think, “How can I affect that? Am I powerless and therefore disinterested in the political process?” They want to engage in this sort of thing both politically and in the choices they make, the people they talk to and how they influence their family and community. It is imperative that we have consumer push, as well as policy direction, to deliver fairer trade. Those will be alongside the powers in the marketplace that are honing down to stop that happening, in the interests of pure profit and cost reduction—but consumers can often afford to pay these prices.

    The nub of the issue is that, in every probability, we are approaching Brexit. How will our trade arrangements be made? Can we sustain, enhance and build on what we have done with fair trade, or do we face real pressures to be like Oliver Twist in our global trading position and say, “Can I have some more?”, while turning our back on Europe? The reality is that Europe has high terms of reference in trade. I would like assurance from the Minister that we expect our future trade relations at least to match what the European Union enjoys in ensuring sustainable, environmentally friendly and fair trade in its dealings.

    There are concerns that we will be under pressure from the United States, which has become more protectionist with its talk about tariffs, or big players such as the Chinese. We need assurances in black and white in the Trade Bill and the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill that we will keep the highest standards in our trading agreements. For that, transparency, scrutiny and agreement of future trade agreements are required so that people can rest assured that environmental standards, human rights and living standards will be protected to a minimum guaranteed level.

    I am interested to hear the Minister’s comments on how we can ensure that the value and volume of fair trade that we import to Britain are at least sustained, and ideally grown. What mechanisms can we use to sustain those, rather than just hoping for the best?

    There are concerns from the Fairtrade Foundation and the Trade Justice Movement, which said that the current situation is not fit for purpose. We face an opportunity for more transparency, more scrutiny and more assurances on fair trade, with a view to helping environmental sustainability, sustaining human rights, rather than making them worse, and meeting our sustainable development goals. I would be grateful for the Minister’s assurances on that.

    As we move towards Brexit and turn our back on the EU marketplace, I fear that we will be hobbled because of economic pressures and that we will not be as able to take global leadership in this area. Places around the world, including the Commonwealth, have historically seen Britain as a trading pioneer that has set standards for an environmentally and morally—in terms of living standards—sustainable world. We need to have down in black and white the ways in which we will ensure that we keep those high standards in future.

    I intend to table amendments to the Trade Bill to ask for scrutiny and for assurance that the minimum trading standards that we enjoy in the EU will be sustained, which would mean that we could all look forward to a fairer, more equal world as trade inevitably increased and that the poorest families would benefit from trade, rather than inequality growing in the world we share.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) on securing this important debate during Fairtrade fortnight about the valuable role that Fairtrade plays for us as consumers. It is a familiar, well-known brand that we all recognise, including children choosing bananas in the supermarket. Many years of work have gone into building up the brand.

    It is wonderful to see the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Fairtrade, the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch). The all-party group plays an important role in keeping that valued brand at the forefront of our minds during Fairtrade fortnight.

  • Before I was elected to this place, I was proud to bring a motion to my borough council to make Ipswich a Fairtrade town. Does the Minister agree that having Fairtrade councils that lead at the forefront through education will have a greater impact on consumer behaviour than if we leave it up to advertisers and individuals?

  • The hon. Gentleman gives an important example of the valuable role that local councils and councillors can play. Parliament is also involved in promoting Fairtrade goods. It was wonderful to hear from the hon. Member for Swansea West about the remarkable example of support for Fairtrade from people across Wales.

    I very much welcome Fairtrade fortnight, which is a fantastic opportunity for UK consumers and businesses to stand together to emphasise the important link between what we consume in the UK and the farmers and workers who grow our food produce, and to show our support for fairly traded goods.

  • I am grateful for what the Minister said about Wales. Does she agree that it is imperative to ensure that consumers across Britain know when they are buying Fairtrade goods and to highlight the fact that those choices exist, from the Government’s point of view? That would put further pressure on producers. We do not want a situation where people do not realise they have Fairtrade options and so cannot make the positive choices that influence producers and the end result. Will she do everything she can to ensure that everybody knows what they are eating and that those choices exist?

  • The hon. Gentleman is right, and he rightly uses his position and this fortnight to make the point across the United Kingdom about the valuable Fairtrade brand—obviously, other approaches are available, as they say on the BBC about particular products. Fairtrade has done a tremendous job of instilling its brand in the mind of the British consumer; the UK leads other markets around the world on recognition of that brand, although it is recognised in other countries. Fairtrade shows us real examples of the links between workers and consumers, which is very powerful.

  • What does the Minister think about the danger of the Fairtrade brand being undermined by half-weight replicas when companies say, “Oh, this is sort of fair”? There is confusion because we know what the Fairtrade brand delivers and we want that to grow, but if companies that are not properly Fairtrade have something that sounds a bit like it, and consumers think, “That sounds all right,” that is a worry—it is Fairtrade-lite.

  • I think the hon. Gentleman is indirectly alluding to another major supermarket that came up with a different approach. He will be aware that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) has been in touch with the Advertising Standards Authority and that it ruled on the situation today. I will not dwell on that, because it is a matter for the Advertising Standards Authority, but I join him in celebrating the fact that the Fairtrade brand has stood the test of time. As consumers, we all know and understand it. I welcome his championing of that. It is also important that, as a Labour and Co-operative MP, he highlights the work that the Co-op does in stocking Fairtrade brands.

    I am happy to highlight the work that the Department has done over a long period to support Fairtrade and the principles it stands for of free, fair and inclusive trade. It is one of the cornerstones of our economic development strategy, which sets out our plans to promote economic growth and decent jobs worldwide, and ultimately to build a safer, healthier, more prosperous world. To do that, and to achieve those really stretching sustainable development goals by 2030, we will need to continue to work in partnership with businesses, non-governmental organisations, producers and consumers on the important agenda that the hon. Gentleman highlights.

    The UK public have demonstrated enormous commitment to Fairtrade, not only in Wales but across the land. There are some 600 Fairtrade communities—including Ipswich, as we heard—and 1,000 Fairtrade academic institutions that help to promote the message. In 2016, the Fairtrade market in the UK generated £32.3 million in premiums, which is money that goes directly to farmers and workers in developing countries. Those communities lead on what the money is spent on, which empowers workers to decide what their priorities are. Last night, I had the privilege of meeting Ketra, a coffee farmer from Uganda, who pointed to the improvements that have occurred over time in her community as a result of that premium.

    Fairtrade plays a vital role in ensuring that the rights of workers at the bottom of the supply chain are recognised—an important issue that the hon. Gentleman highlighted—and that businesses have the tools to prevent and stop exploitation. The Government are fully committed to supporting that through the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

  • The Minister is being very generous with her time. When the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) was Secretary of State, I met her to talk about the Fairtrade principles. One of the most exploitative industries around the world is mining—a point made powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies). Fairtrade Gold has done some fantastic work in the industry, and the former Secretary of State was interested in liaising with the Fairtrade Foundation to see what more DFID could do to apply Fairtrade principles to mining around the world. Will the Minister update us on whether that appetite is still there and whether there have been any new developments?

  • The hon. Lady raises a really important point that applies not only to gold, but to so many other minerals; some of the working conditions for people in the cobalt industry are absolutely scandalous. I will follow up on her point and elaborate more on what we are doing, because she makes a very powerful suggestion. When we buy phones, for example, we should know that the minerals in them have been mined in good working conditions.

    We are working with Fairtrade to develop Fairtrace, a new supply chain mapping tool for cocoa, coffee and tea that will help UK brands and consumers to better understand where their products come from. Companies that have gone through the Fairtrace process include the Co-op and Ben and Jerry’s.

    We face many great challenges. More than 40 million men, women and children are working in conditions of modern slavery around the world—a statistic that I find absolutely startling. We cannot help to lift millions of people in the developing world out of poverty without tackling the exploitation of workers in global supply chains. This debate has rightly brought gold and mined metals to the fore. Clearly, more trade on fair terms is the key engine for poverty reduction. Through fair trade, we can increase trade and create a progressive trade policy that increases prosperity for all, acts as a lever for equality and leaves no-one behind.

  • Perhaps the Minister was about to answer this, but what red lines and constraints are the Government planning to put in trade deals? Obviously transparency and scrutiny are a different issue, but what is the plan to discourage trade with those who exploit the 40 million people in modern slavery?

  • The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, although I have to say that I disagree with his party’s stance on the customs union because it is really important that as we leave the European Union we can work through trade issues as a sovereign nation. DFID is working closely with the Department for International Trade to ensure that development and global prosperity are at the heart of UK trade and investment policy. Our focus is on helping countries in the developing world to leave their aid dependency behind and become our trade partners of the future. Our key priority is to ensure that our trading relationships with developing countries are not disrupted by our choice to leave the European Union.

    We are working to ensure continuity in our relationships with approximately 100 developing countries, which will provide a strong platform to deepen trade and investment partnerships. We are supporting developing countries to take better advantage of trading opportunities. We will build on our track record as a champion of trade and development by offering an integrated trade and development package that improves our trade offer to developing countries. We are fully committed to ensuring the maintenance of high standards of consumer, worker and environmental protection in all our trade agreements. I hope that that statement reassures the hon. Gentleman.

  • The Minister is being very generous with her time. Will data be available to show that we are increasing our focus on the value and volume of fair trade? We need examples of products that have been traced back to their origin to show that they do not come from circumstances of exploitation. I hope she shares my ambition, because the public want to know that they are buying better products from fairer trade. There is an onus on the Government to provide that information and encourage that practice. Can she say anything else about her work with the Department for International Trade to ensure that those values are instilled in trade deals?

  • The hon. Gentleman raises data. He will be aware of how protracted the process is; he will also be aware of DFID’s commitment to the Fairtrace process that I outlined, which is very much about ensuring we have data that companies can work through with their supply chains.

    The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Commonwealth. I am very much looking forward to the opportunities that will arise from our hosting the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government summit, the theme of which is “Towards a Common Future”. We will really be able to emphasise inclusive, fair trade, and it will be a great opportunity to hear developing country perspectives and drive forward this important agenda. More than a million Fairtrade farmers and workers live in Commonwealth countries; through a fair and transparent trade system, we can secure a more prosperous future for them and for everyone in the Commonwealth.

    The Government will continue to champion trade that is free and fair and that helps to tackle the exploitation of workers; create a trade system that works for everyone, including the very poorest; and eliminate poverty through inclusive economic growth.

    Question put and agreed to.

  • Sitting suspended.