I beg to move,
That this House has considered Traidcraft and the future of fair trade.
It is a pleasure to open this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I start by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group for Fairtrade, for their support in making the application to the Backbench Business Committee.
In one of those strange coincidences, when I was thinking about my Christmas card competition for local primary schools last summer, an officer from Gateshead Council—my local authority—telephoned the office and suggested that this year the theme should be fair trade. That seemed an excellent idea to me. Gateshead prides itself on being a Fairtrade authority. In Traidcraft, a Fairtrade company and charity based on the Team Valley trading estate, we had a real local connection and a topic that would get pupils thinking about just what fair trade means for us here in the UK and for producers who grow, create and supply fair trade goods and products, especially in the lead up to Christmas, when we think of gifts and rich food.
I was shocked to hear in September that Traidcraft was in difficulty, facing potential closure and consulting its 60-plus staff based in its Team Valley warehouse and offices on potential redundancies. Traidcraft has a personal significance to me. Over many years I have been a Traidcraft customer, and its craft products are scattered around my home. Some may even have appeared as raffle prizes over the years. Indeed, I have been a trader, although sadly not a very successful one.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I could share many happy memories of buying Traidcraft goods from the late 70s. My sister used to run a stall for Traidcraft in her church, St Robert’s in Morpeth. She ran an evening at the place where I worked in North Shields. It is not just about getting gifts and helping people to have nice things from abroad; what was crucial was the raising of awareness for people who otherwise would not be aware of the need for fair trade.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Last month, I attended an event hosted by Traidcraft in Newcastle entitled, “Who picked my tea?” It is a brilliant campaign that has resulted in Yorkshire Tea, Twinings, Tetley and Clipper all publishing who is picking their tea and their list of suppliers. That should help drive up the standards for those tea plantations in Assam. Does my hon. Friend share my view of the importance of Traidcraft’s work? Will she join me in calling on PG Tips and Typhoo to publish that information as well?
I most certainly do agree with my hon. Friend. Traidcraft and the Fairtrade Foundation have played a huge part in ensuring that producers are accountable and that those principles are applied fairly.
My mother loved to look at the Traidcraft catalogue, find out what was going on from the Traidcraft bulletins and buy products—mostly chocolate, it should be said—from the back of her church. Churches have played a hugely important part in selling Traidcraft goods. She would get me to buy products either from the Traidcraft shop in Team Valley or on the internet.
Apart from my personal reasons for feeling sad at the news of possible closure and the loss of 60 jobs from our local economy in Gateshead, there are much more serious reasons why so many people were sad to hear of Traidcraft’s difficulties. As the company has said, it was
“overwhelmed by the outpouring of public concern and offers of support which demonstrates that the mission of Traidcraft still matters to many, many people”.
That is absolutely right. Next year marks the 40th anniversary of Traidcraft plc. Established as a Fairtrade enterprise, it initially provided a market for handcrafted items from Bangladesh at a time of great political turmoil there. Handicrafts, because they required minimal capital outlay for women in affected communities and could be produced alongside farming activities, provide an additional income source while preserving food security. Those values of supporting women, developing resilience and environmental concern have been recurring themes for Traidcraft over the years.
From its creation in 1979, the company developed into a public limited company with 4,500 individual shareholders and shares traded on the ethical stock exchange. It buys groceries and craft items from more than 70 producer groups in around 30 countries. Goods are sold through community resellers, online and through specialist fair trade shops. Traidcraft has pioneered fair trade products such as wine, charcoal and rubber gloves, alongside more familiar products such as tea, coffee, chocolate and biscuits. It has reached into thousands of homes—including my mum’s—and communities through its community sales force. What is more, it has had a real impact on the lives of countless producers and their families, delivering real social change.
Traidcraft was at the forefront of the Fairtrade movement and was a founder member of the Fairtrade Foundation along with Oxfam, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, Christian Aid, the Women’s Institute and the World Development Movement. The Fairtrade movement developed the Fairtrade certification system, which enabled those same fair trade principles to be applied by mainstream businesses. That was a vital tool for those businesses wanting to establish fairer and more just trading relationships and provided an independent guarantee for consumers.
I congratulate the hon. Lady and the others on securing this important debate. I declare an interest, having been a member of the board of Twin, a fair trade organisation. I have been involved in fair trade for well over 20 years. The point that she makes about mainstream organisations is absolutely right. Does she agree that without the work of Traidcraft and others, such as CAFOD and Twin, fair trade would not have been taken up by the mainstream supermarkets, resulting in the enormous boost to fair trade that means that the UK has, I believe, the largest fair trade market in the world?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I sincerely believe that without the input of those organisations and Traidcraft, we would not be in the position where we now take it for granted that we can obtain fairly traded goods in mainstream supermarkets and other shops. I most certainly agree with him on that point.
The Fairtrade Foundation has recognised that Traidcraft plc’s approach has been an inspiration to many and that the approach it pioneered in 1979 is now also being taken forward, as the hon. Gentleman said, by other brands and businesses that choose to trade fairly. Traidcraft also established a separate development charity, Traidcraft Exchange—thankfully, it is not under threat—which is supported by individual donations and institutional donors including the Department for International Development, Comic Relief and the Big Lottery Fund. The charity works with farmers and artisans who are not part of fair trade supply chains and campaigns for justice in international trade.
So, what happened to Traidcraft? Just as for many other UK businesses, life has been difficult. The retail environment has been particularly challenging. The success of fair trade products in mainstream suppliers and their availability in supermarkets is welcome, but that challenges fair trade enterprises such as Traidcraft on price and scale.
Much as we might like to escape the B-word, it is simply not possible. Currency fluctuations immediately after the EU referendum and uncertainty about Brexit continue to affect Traidcraft. Traidcraft estimates that the drop in the value of the pound within a week of the referendum cost the company £350,000. With most of the company’s £2.4 million of purchases from suppliers in developing countries paid in dollars, that early 15% currency drop meant that Traidcraft had less to spend, and holding true to its long-held fair trade principles meant that it could not, as others might, exert downward price pressure on its suppliers.
I share my hon. Friend’s concern about the impact on Traidcraft, and its need to reduce operations, because I, too, am proud of the fact that it has such strong roots in the north-east, in our region. Does she share my concern that the implications are not short term? Does she agree that we need to ensure that not only Traidcraft but all businesses that want to trade ethically can do so, and that that is not affected in any way by our departure from the EU?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and emphasise its importance for future world development. Traidcraft appears to have been hit by a perfect storm in so far as Brexit and currency fluctuations have damaged its business model, and uncertainty in world markets and trade agreements, and changes in consumer purchasing behaviour, have conspired to undermine it. Does she agree that, given the importance of Traidcraft’s small businesses in taking people in the most vulnerable countries out of poverty, there is a strong case for the Department for International Trade and DFID to look at developing a model of support that will ensure that such businesses survive in a very difficult international environment?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I will touch on some of those points later.
Brexit, as we have said, continues to affect the company’s trading. When I spoke to Traidcraft’s chief executive, Robin Roth, shortly after the announcement of a potential closure, I asked what I could do to help to secure Traidcraft’s future. He told me that the best thing that I could do would be to encourage people to buy from Traidcraft in the run-up to Christmas, as a strong Christmas—the Christmas catalogues were nearly ready—would allow Traidcraft to look to a future for the organisation.
That is what I have tried to do locally, and—with the help of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham—in this House. I hope that many hon. Members will have bought at least some of their Christmas gifts from the Traidcraft catalogue, which we sent to all Members some weeks ago. Traidcraft do a fine line in quality socks as well as more decorative crafts, and they have certainly featured on my Christmas list.
I am glad that Traidcraft supporters have, I am told, responded magnificently. That has meant that the company has been able to put together a plan for the future that will see the company refocus and survive. Sadly, many of the jobs in Gateshead will be lost, the warehousing will be outsourced and there will be a focus on food and related goods and a very much narrower range of crafts, together with a new emphasis on consumers buying co-operatively. I look forward to seeing the new “Traidcraft 2” develop and grow, and will continue to support it.
Traidcraft, as part of the fair trade movement, has some asks of the Government. I thank the Minister for inquiring in advance whether there were any particular issues for which he could prepare. I do not believe that any of the asks will come as surprises to the Minister, although I was unable to give him that notice.
First, the Government need to reassure the many producers and farmers in vulnerable developing countries that the UK will put in place measures to preserve market access—if necessary, unilaterally—to avoid disruption. They urge the Government to provide reassurance that the needs of poorer countries and vulnerable stakeholders will be taken into consideration as future trade policy is developed and implemented.
Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the great benefits of the work of Traidcraft, and others, has been that it works on the ground with producers and farmers, and enables them not only to increase their incomes, but to improve their quality and so much else? That engagement on the ground with producers and small-scale farmers, with whom I have worked for 30 years or more, is vital, because it means that money gets to the grassroots. So often, money does not seem to trickle down. This is money, support and agricultural extension work going in at the grassroots.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I agree with him on all those points. One of the important things about Traidcraft has been that personal connection through the “meet the producers” tours, and being able to see in the catalogue who produces the goods. We must never forget the impact on individuals of the work of Traidcraft and other fair trade organisations. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that DFID will play its part in continuing that work.
The UK has a strong record of using its aid programme to support business development. The Government should continue their development work in that area and re-emphasise the inclusive approach that we have talked about within that, through a clear gender focus and support for small and medium-sized enterprises, ensuring that the trade and business environment enables them to voice their needs and to thrive.
As Traidcraft goes forward, it will look to offer consumers even greater transparency. As part of the review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the Government should update the official guidance to encourage companies to publish where they buy their goods from and the wages of their supply chain workers. The Government should consider legislation to make human rights due diligence mandatory, so that we can have that transparency and see exactly what is being done.
Finally, Parliament is considering the Agriculture Bill, which is perhaps not in the Minister’s immediate purview, although I am sure that he can have some input.
I have a lot of farming constituents—trust me.
Yes. As Parliament considers the Agriculture Bill, the Government could table amendments that establish more comprehensive regulation, supporting fairer purchasing practices all the way along agricultural supply chains.
Earlier this month, I went to the Traidcraft warehouse sale in Team Valley and, yes, picked up some bargains, although it feels wrong to do that knowing the difficulties that the company has faced. While there, I spoke to a member of staff who was tidying up the shelves and said how sad I found it. He surprised me by saying that it was not sad; Traidcraft plc has a plan and a future to look forward to, although there will not be the same range of crafts.
Although I was surprised, I am sure that his was the right attitude, and it will ensure that the company has a long and sustainable future—different from what it has been, but still upholding and strengthening the fair trade principles that it has been instrumental in developing, and continuing to work with like-minded organisations in the Fairtrade Foundation. I wish it every success.
Order. The debate can last until 11 o’clock. I have to call the Front-Bench spokespeople no later than 10.28 am, and the guideline limits for the Front Benchers are 10 minutes for the Scottish National party, 10 minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition, 10 minutes for the Minister, and then we will hear again from Liz Twist to wind up. Until 10.28 am, it is Back-Bench time. Our first contributor will be Jim Shannon.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on securing this debate and on succinctly setting the scene. We are here because we have an interest in fair trade and Traidcraft and the good that they bring to those who produce the products that we use in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I pay special tribute to the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who has a deep interest in this matter—a practical, physical interest—from his past work. He has hands-on knowledge of how it can benefit people.
We live in a dog-eat-dog world, to use terminology that we have in Northern Ireland. I frown upon it, but it is sought after by some. There seems to be no shame in doing someone over as long as you come out on top. To succeed, people are expected to trample on other people, instead of working with them. Traidcraft and Fairtrade are essential, because they bring us back to where we should be. All of us in this Chamber are people of faith and understand what it means, and therefore we have an interest in people. That is one of the reasons why we are here to participate in this debate. We also have an interest in people across the world.
I think it was Margaret Thatcher who referred to us as a nation of shopkeepers. Well, my family were shopkeepers. My dad was a shopkeeper—he was one of the first to go into the grocery trade. At that time it was VG—it is now Spar—and it was one of the first grocery groups in Northern Ireland. He had a wee shop in Ballywalter. I call it a wee shop—it was a big shop in those days, but it is probably a wee shop today. He was known as a man who operated with fair pricing. I want to make this illustration, because it is important. There was always the ability to take advantage by putting the prices up, as we lived in a rural community and not many people had their own cars, so they could not get to the big towns easily. That is how it was in the ’60s and early ’70s. My dad could have hiked the prices, but he chose not to. I remember him saying, “James”—everybody else calls me Jim, but my dad christened me James—“we may never be rich, but we will always have enough. We will never put someone in need as a sacrifice to our greed.” He had a very clear message as a shopkeeper. It was not about excessive profits, his grandeur or his lifestyle; it was about producing things for other people.
My dad ran another business that I remember very well. He probably supplied furniture, carpets, lino and blinds to every house in the villages of Ballywalter, Greyabbey, Carrowdore, Kircubbin, Ballyhalbert and Portavogie. He did what we called “cuff” in those days—a form of borrowing, with so much paid back per week. He was a very generous person. His ethic of fairness to people is one that Fairtrade and Traidcraft share. It is so important.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the great supporters and promoters of fair trade in retail over the past 30 years is the co-operative movement? Alongside Traidcraft and others, it has really taken forward fair trade and made it a household name in the United Kingdom.
I wholeheartedly agree. The hon. Gentleman brings wisdom and knowledge to this type of debate—to every debate, but to this one in particular. I thank him for that.
Unfortunately, that school of thinking has been somewhat lost, as some of the big companies look to the dividends of their shareholders and do not concern themselves with how suppliers lower the bottom line to meet their profit margin need. It is good that some companies have realised that they have to adhere to a moral compass. That is why Fairtrade and Traidcraft exist. I thank everyone who works in those wonderful organisations and takes part in what they do.
I am given to understand that there has to be a cut in staff numbers. That is unfortunate, and I encourage the venture to hold fast and keep doing good. There is a verse in scripture that always encouraged me: it says that we should not be weary in doing good, for we shall reap what we diligently sow. It is my belief that there are countless families in communities throughout the world who are reaping the benefits of what these organisations sow in fairness, respect, hard work and honesty.
Before making this contribution, I was thinking of the advert on TV for Fairtrade coffee, which tells the story of the young boys in the fields. If they were not doing that farming and that work, the alternative would be to go into criminal activity. By buying Fairtrade and Traidcraft goods, we enable people in other parts of the world to gain a wage, to have families and to grow, and we also keep them away from criminality.
My hon. Friend is taking about the short-term difficulties that Traidcraft faces. The decline in the pound has hit Traidcraft for obvious reasons, but does he agree that, beyond the next 12 to 18 months, there should be more stability in the economy and the financial markets? It is essential that, in the interim, we keep supporting organisations such as Traidcraft through this type of debate and our physical support on the ground, as we buy their products?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should not be inhibited in supporting Fairtrade and Traidcraft. I was going to say at the end of my speech —he may have gone through my notes—that even if it means paying an extra 50p or £1 for a product just to keep it all going while the pound strengthens again, we should do that. I thank him for that comment. As always, he brings knowledge and wisdom to the debate.
I read a briefing by Traidcraft that said that, as Traidcraft plc goes forward, it will be striving to offer consumers ever greater levels of transparency about where its products come from and where its money goes. Hon. Members in this Chamber probably know where the products come from and the benefits of them, but it is important that others see that too. Fair trade is increasingly seen as the norm for all businesses. Traidcraft Exchange is also encouraging mainstream businesses, through its “Who picked my tea?” campaign, to know and make public information about their suppliers. There are small things we can do to assist that. I believe that that is vital in providing workers and community groups in supplier companies with the information and opportunity to hold companies to account for the standards that are expected in their supply chains—for example, with reference to working conditions and vulnerability to modern slavery.
There is a real need to ensure that workers’ conditions are at a good standard. Traidcraft has said:
“We urge Government as part of the review of the Modern Slavery Act to update the official guidance to encourage companies, as part of their reporting, to publish where they buy their goods from and the wages of their supply chain workers. We also encourage Government to consider legislation that would make Human Rights Due Diligence mandatory.”
I am my party’s human rights spokesperson, so like all hon. Members in this Chamber and others outside it, I have a deep interest in this issue. Therefore, the issue of fair wages and good working conditions are important to me.
I am pleased that, in this debate, we have a shadow Minister who has a deep interest in this issue and a Minister who understands it better than most. I know that both their contributions will be worth listening to, and that they will respond to our concerns. I have no doubt that they will both reply very positively and supportively.
I support Traidcraft in what it is asking the Government to do. There is an onus on us to ensure that we do not support the trafficking and ill-treatment of children or adults throughout the world. I sincerely believe that we must do more and be more for those who have no voices and no one willing to stand up for them. As often happens in this House, we are the voice of the voiceless. This debate gives us the opportunity to do just that.
I say well done to all in Traidcraft and Fairtrade for how far they have brought us. It heartens me that my own grandchildren—those who have children and grandchildren have probably found the same—already know what the Fairtrade symbol is. It is encouraging that grandchildren remind people of what the Fairtrade symbol is and what it means. Perhaps their parents or grandparents do not know, but it is good to know that the children of today—in both primary school and secondary school—know about the Fairtrade symbol. That encourages us to buy things with the symbol. That needs to continue. We need to teach a generation to be cognisant of the fact that an extra 50p or £1 on an item could make the difference between a child slave and a paid wage. That is the importance of what we are doing. We encourage people to purchase Traidcraft and Fairtrade items.
I offer my full support to those who wish simply to do the right thing, and to do all in their power to ensure that the people they buy from also do the right thing. We need to make people aware legislatively that “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” in the process of their purchases will no longer be possible or, indeed, acceptable.
I again apologise, Mr Hollobone. I have asked your permission to leave early, because I have a meeting with a Minister. I apologise that I will not be here at the end of the debate for the contributions of the shadow Minister, the Minister and the mover of the debate.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on the initiative to secure this debate and on what she said. I also very much agree with what the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said.
I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, where it is recorded that I am the unpaid chair of the Traidcraft Foundation trustees. I will say a little more about the work of that body later in my remarks.
In 2007, Sainsbury’s announced that it would in future sell only Fairtrade bananas, a commitment that it has maintained to the present day, with 100 million a year of those bananas coming from St Lucia. At the time, a press article described the impact of that decision, under the headline, “Saving St Lucia: UK supermarket sweeps up 100m bananas”:
“Just seven years ago the banana farmers of the Caribbean island of St Lucia were hanging up their machetes and ready to turn their steep hillsides back to forest. UK subsidies for their fruit were doomed, they couldn’t compete with giant ‘dollar’ bananas from South American plantations, and a dying industry seemed to provide only back-breaking work for scant reward.
Today, the island where bananas are not so much a crop but a way of life is celebrating. Just about every St Lucian banana sold for export now commands a premium price and European supermarkets are queuing for more. Money is going into run-down schools, the banana sheds are being repaired and the farmers can scarcely believe the turn round in their fortunes.”
A remarkable change had taken place. The article went on:
“In a reversal of the situation nine years ago where only the Co-op was prepared to stock fair trade products”—
I join the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) in paying tribute to its role—
“the big supermarkets now openly compete with each other to be socially conscious.”
How did that turnabout occur? What was it that changed the retail market in the UK to deliver such huge benefits to struggling farmers in the developing world growing bananas, coffee, tea, cocoa and other products? In a word, it was Traidcraft.
Traidcraft, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon said, was established 40 years ago. It described itself as a “Christian response to poverty”. It started with hand-crafted items from Bangladesh, and still sells those. Together with the chair of Traidcraft, Ram Gidoomal, my wife and I visited some of those producers in Bangladesh in 2012. Traidcraft has always had a focus on support for women producers as the most effective way to raise family incomes.
Traidcraft started with those craft products. In the 1980s, the idea of fair trade was pioneered in the Netherlands with coffee, and Traidcraft brought the idea to the UK. What happened, in effect, was that people who ran church bookstalls were persuaded to offer some crafts and fair trade items for sale on the edge of their collections of books. You might be forgiven, Mr Hollobone, for thinking that a few bookstalls in draughty church halls around the country were never going to change anything much but, ultimately, they brought about that change of fortune for the banana farmers of St Lucia, even though neither they nor Traidcraft ever sold any bananas.
Voluntary, community-based support, initially in churches and then increasingly elsewhere—for example, Fairtrade schools—enabled the fair trade movement to get a toehold to start with, to survive and to go on to flourish. Today, fair trade has a large niche in the UK retail market—Fairtrade sales volumes rose 7% last year.
Traidcraft established itself as a plc. As my hon. Friend pointed out, it has 4,500 individual shareholders, buys groceries and craft items from more than 70 producer groups in some 30 countries, and sells them through community fair traders online, dedicated fair trade shops and mainstream retailers. To secure Traidcraft’s focus on its core mission, as a Christian response to poverty, it established the Traidcraft Foundation, which I chair. It has a golden share in the plc to ensure that the initial focus is maintained.
Traidcraft Exchange, the sister charity which does a lot of the producer support work that the hon. Member for Stafford rightly highlighted in his intervention, was established in 1986. It continues to thrive, to support low-income producers in Africa and Asia to grow their business, and to campaign in the UK. For example, a few years ago it played a key role in the campaign to establish the Groceries Code Adjudicator to secure fairer access to the retail market. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) in her intervention mentioned the “Who picked my tea?” campaign that it led, drawing the attention of consumers to questions about the working conditions and circumstances of those who pick the tea that we all enjoy.
Traidcraft played a key role in the establishment of the Fairtrade Foundation in 1992. It also developed the Geobar, which proved to be a phenomenally successful product, I am pleased to say. The Geobar generated substantial commercial success for the company and underpinned its activities for a long time. In recent years, however, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon pointed out, Traidcraft has struggled to make a profit for the reasons that she set out: the wider challenges in the UK market, Brexit and the fall in the value of the pound.
Traidcraft had quite a specific role as a pioneer in fair trade and, with fair trade being taken up widely by retailers—supermarkets have lots of their own-brand fair trade products these days—the position of Traidcraft in establishing its own niche and commercially viable market has been a difficult one. It struggled to make profits. Last summer, Traidcraft under its then recently appointed chief executive, Robin Roth, after some disappointing sales figures, took the view that things could not carry on. It was decided to rethink the business model, to downsize radically—losing more than 60 jobs, as my hon. Friend pointed out—and in the new year to go forward with only 12 staff, outsourced warehousing and a focus on the grocery business. I am pleased to say that Traidcraft has had a good autumn of sales. There has been tremendous support from the community in my hon. Friend’s constituency and in the north-east more generally, which has helped to buoy it as well.
Fairtrade continues to do well in the UK. I have referred to the fact that its sales volumes rose by 7% last year. It is important to recognise that, notwithstanding the difficulties that Traidcraft has been through, fair trade continues to enjoy strong consumer support.
Traidcraft has a remarkable story. Its pioneering role helped to create fair trade as an enduring segment of the retail market. Committed volunteers in churches led the way, but the support for fair trade is now very widely based, placing it squarely in the mainstream of today’s retail marketplace. Polling shows that awareness of and trust in the Fairtrade mark are at the highest level they have ever been since the Fairtrade Foundation was established in 1992 and started polling on the views of the Fairtrade mark a couple of years later.
Traidcraft has been through a difficult phase—hopefully, it will emerge leaner and stronger with new investment in the new year—but the values that Traidcraft has championed enjoy greater support than ever in the UK. I hope that in his remarks, the Minister—I am pleased to see him in particular in his place for this debate—will confirm that the Department for International Trade will want to uphold those values as it develops future trade policy. Such decisions are crucial for farmers and producers in the least developed countries and in other developing countries around the world.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on securing this important debate on a subject that I am sure we all have a great level of agreement about. She talked about the personal significance of Traidcraft to her as a customer, the future of fair trade and the importance that Traidcraft has had for women in affected communities. The lives that have been changed in those communities show how important it has been.
The hon. Lady also talked about the ability of the products to reach thousands of homes and communities, and the sense of the overarching campaign for justice that is included in fair trade. Very importantly given the situation at Traidcraft, she talked about encouraging people to buy from Traidcraft in the run-up to Christmas, and the fact that it need not be a time of real darkness because there are hopes that, through restructuring, it can look to a brighter future.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is no longer in his place—he explained that he had to leave—talked about companies such as Traidcraft bringing some light into a highly competitive, sometimes uncaring market. He spoke about his father and the need to think about the needs of others—the importance of an ethical approach to retail that sometimes becomes a bit lost in society these days. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the importance of fair wages and working conditions, wherever those people may be—something we should all keep working together on. He talked about the need to challenge the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” approach to retail that can sometimes pervade.
The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) talked about fair trade being brought to supermarkets and the role—repeated by others—of the co-operative movement in facilitating that. The right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) made an interesting speech about the fact that St Lucia’s economy was, in effect, saved by Sainsbury’s decision to sell only its bananas. He also paid tribute to the co-operative movement for leading the way and talked about the gradual expansion of fair trade and Traidcraft’s role in that expansion throughout the nations of the UK. He asked the Minister to uphold the values that have been set for the future in his work. I am sure we will hear about that.
Scotland is a fair trade nation. I proudly represent a fair trade city in a region with a fair trade local authority. Inverness became a fair trade city in 2006 and is proudly joined by the highland fair trade communities of Skye, Broadford, Ullapool, Strathpeffer, Dornoch and Dunvegan. As a good global citizen, Scotland has always been committed to playing its part in addressing poverty and fair trade at home and afar, and was one of the first countries in the world to be named a fair trade nation. However, I must give a special mention for Wales, which was the first ever fair trade nation, gaining its accreditation in 2008.
In Scotland, the Scottish Fair Trade Forum has been particularly instrumental in driving forward our fair trade nation agenda. We believe in encouraging business to play its part in promoting and respecting human rights, working with partner countries to support development through trade. Transparency is vital to ensure that our trade policy is carried out in a way that is beneficial to all nations of the UK and consistent with international development goals.
It takes serious commitment for a nation to achieve fair trade nation status. In Scotland, those commitments included all seven Scottish cities and at least 55% of local authority areas having fair trade status; all 32 local authority areas and at least 55% of towns with a population of 5,000 or more must have active fair trade groups working towards fair trade status. The percentage of those with fair trade status is now at 80%. Similarly, at least 60% of higher education institutions must have active fair trade groups working towards fair trade status.
In addition, the Scottish Parliament and Government must use, promote and make available Fairtrade products internally, and actively promote Fairtrade fortnight each year. Fair trade has to be promoted in schools through the curriculum, procurement and other possible means. Schools, further education institutions, faith groups, trade unions, business networks and voluntary and youth organisations must pledge to use and promote fair trade; finally, 75% of people must buy a Fairtrade product every year, and 40% of people must regularly buy Fairtrade products.
A commitment to fair trade is not about just qualifying for a status; it is an ongoing commitment to tackling poverty across the world and support those worse off than ourselves through the promotion of Fairtrade products. In Scotland, the drive to become a fair trade nation took commitment from people, Government, businesses, public bodies and community, and cross-party work from politicians across Scotland to promote fair trade. It is organisations such as Traidcraft, as we have heard, that have led the way to allow that to happen, which is why we are all deeply saddened by the difficulties it has been going through.
In a briefing for this debate, the Fairtrade Foundation described the Traidcraft plc. approach to fair trade as:
“an inspiration to many and the approach that it pioneered in 1979 is now also being taken forward by other brands and businesses that choose to trade fairly. The wider Fairtrade sector, owes a great debt to Traidcraft and their many volunteers, especially within the faith communities, and the Fairtrade Foundation wishes them every success with the plan proposed last month for a slimmed-down Traidcraft with fair trade, community buying, transparency and ‘market disruption’ at its heart”.
I am sure we all share those sentiments. Traidcraft’s contribution to fair trade has been wide reaching and felt across the world. As we have heard, it was one of the founding members of the Fairtrade Foundation, which was established in 1992 with a vision to make trade fair and to secure a better deal for farmers and workers. It has educated us, enabled us and ensured that fair trade has remained on the political agenda in all the nations of the UK.
Others have mentioned that Traidcraft, which is based in Gateshead’s Team Valley, put 67 of its 68 staff on notice of redundancy in September after a series of factors caused it to lurch into a financial crisis. In early November, it announced a rescue plan in which the company will slash its product lines and keep just 12 employees to stay afloat. I wish, as I am sure everyone here does, the management all the success with the recovery plan. I hope—and believe—that this iconic organisation can have better times ahead. I also hope that in his response, the Minister will share the action that his Government are taking to support Traidcraft through these extremely trying times, especially given that the chief executive officer cited Brexit as one of the main factors in its recent difficulties.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, in this important and timely debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on securing it, and I associate myself with her comments and concerns. I thank the other Members who spoke. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned having derived his fair trade values from his father, who was a shopkeeper, and urged us to do more to be a voice for the voiceless. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) spoke of retailers committing to sell Fairtrade items in the UK and Traidcraft’s role in making that happen. I also thank him and the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince) for the work they do through the APPG for Fairtrade. It was a pleasure to hear the strength of support among all Members for just and fair trade in which workers and countries are not exploited.
Let me start by welcoming the work that Traidcraft—and, indeed, everyone who buys Fairtrade—does to ensure justice in the consumer-producer relationship. Fair trading initiatives have led the way in ensuring that the true costs of produce are not paid by people living in poverty and insecurity through exploitative and dangerous working conditions, being ripped off by powerful global agribusinesses, or environmental destruction and degradation. However, fair trade must be just the start of a broader move towards more just global trading relationships, so it is deeply disappointing to learn that many social businesses and smaller fair trade companies are struggling as they absorb the hit of the pound’s depreciation as a result of the Brexit negotiations. They have been unable and unwilling to pass those costs down the supply chain as many larger companies have done.
A bad deal for Traidcraft would not only be damaging for its workers in the UK but contribute to worsening the position of vulnerable people around the world. If the Government continue to flounder in their attempt to finalise a Brexit deal, developing countries will face an estimated £1 billion in additional taxes on imports. That will foster poverty and inequality, burden already struggling countries with further debts, and deny workers their rightful access to living wages and robust labour rights. Will the Minister say what steps the Government are taking to ensure that those social businesses are able to continue to produce and sell Fairtrade products? Why did the Government see fit to reduce funding to promote and encourage ethical and fair trading?
The Fairtrade market in the UK is worth more than £1.6 billion, so it is clear that it is not a niche movement. Rather, it is a powerful example of the British public’s support for the benefits of trade being shared with workers around the globe, not funnelled into a narrow pool of corporations. That is further emphasised by the breadth of support for fair trade across the United Kingdom. Hundreds of individual businesses across the UK help to empower fair trade farmers and workers in developing countries. There are more than 10,000 local campaigning groups, including more than 600 towns and 1,000 schools as well as universities and faith groups, boosting awareness and understanding of international trade issues up and down the country.
Fair trade and its supporters in the UK are part of a global fair trade system that supports 1.66 million fair trade workers in 73 countries around the world. The UK should be proud of its role in the formation of that movement, which has become truly global. We need to uphold that legacy, and we should use those groups and the practical and real successes of the fair trade movement to drive wider reform of international trade conventions so they are built on equality and justice.
It is important to remember that what we are talking about goes beyond what can be achieved by the fair trade movement alone. Trade relationships between the richest and poorest countries are at the heart of uneven global economic development. We in the Labour party want to introduce long-term structural change to the global economy to eradicate poverty and inequality. We want to work hand in hand with the world’s poorest countries to ensure that trade works for them and us, rather than forcing them to be beholden to corporate interests or always to give British companies an advantage regardless of whether that is good for domestic development strategies.
We know that, when done justly, economic development initiatives can lift people out of poverty, tackle inequalities and help to change lives. However, the Department for International Development’s economic development strategy fails to do that, instead falling back on old, discredited tropes about free trade alone succeeding in addressing those problems. Will the Minister explain why DFID’s economic development strategy does not recognise fair and ethical trade as a cornerstone of economic policy?
The Government know full well that when the UK and other countries industrialised, they used the kinds of industrial development strategies that are now withheld from the poorest countries. Will the Minister tell us what impact assessments are done on trade deals, and will be done on any future deals, to ensure that they support development targets, the national development strategies of southern countries and poverty reduction?
Rather than having trade deals that require Governments to cut corporate taxes, increase privatisation and promote deregulation of our social and environmental protections—all policies that increase inequalities and push already vulnerable people into more precarious situations—why do we not ensure that our trade deals act as positive incentives to foster equality, in particular gender equality? We must end the model whereby the UK dominates economically weaker nations and insists on policies and agreements that weaken workers’ rights and protections, remove or undermine environmental standards and reinforce a world of “winners” and “losers”. We know from the example of the fair trade movement that trade can have a positive impact for the world’s poorest nations, but only when it is done right.
The Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018 outlines the Government’s plan to roll over the EU’s existing “Everything but Arms” scheme, ignoring calls from the Labour party, the Fairtrade Foundation, Global Justice Now and the Trade Justice Movement to introduce a UK preferential treatment scheme that covers a greater number of vulnerable economies. Considering the transformative potential of fair trade for people’s lives, will the Government commit to developing unilateral UK preferential access schemes for developing countries?
People in the UK want to be paid a fair wage for the work they do, to be protected from malicious or irresponsible employers and to live secure lives. Everyone the world over should have those rights, and trade that is ethically and fairly driven is vital to achieving them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As we have heard, there is a huge amount of common ground on this topic. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on securing this debate on both Traidcraft and the future of fair trade generally, and I thank other colleagues for their contributions. I congratulate her in particular on the way she set out the relationship between Traidcraft and her constituency and those around it, and how Traidcraft’s values have infused people in her constituency and beyond. That shone out from the debate generally.
I suspect very few Members have not had a connection with Traidcraft and fair trade over the years we have been engaged in public life. I am sure many of us have been in draughty church halls and seen the work that is done. The right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) illustrated vividly how we can turn those draughty church halls and book stalls into policy change in relation to fair trade. What he said about Sainsbury’s in St Lucia is a dramatic demonstration of what can be done when people set their minds to something. A thousand different opportunities picked up around the country can make a significant change. It was wonderful to hear that example. I think some people still feel as though all the big decisions in the world are made by remote organisations and worry about whether they can influence things. That is at the heart of queries about democratic practices, not only in this country but throughout the western developed world. That is an example of something good that can happen very much at grassroots level.
I am pleased also that tribute was paid to my good friend, Ram Gidoomal, who has been an influence on a variety of positive issues in this country for many years. I am delighted that such a friend of many decades is able to listen attentively to this debate. We certainly appreciate his relationship with Traidcraft and all he has done with it over the years. In my constituency, I have been to St Andrew’s Church many times with the Fairtrade group in Biggleswade, and churches throughout north Bedfordshire—particularly North Bedfordshire Methodist Circuit—have been very involved. We can pay tribute to those who have acted locally and nationally on this.
Let me proceed with my remarks, into which I will incorporate some of the comments made by colleagues. When Traidcraft was created in 1979, we undoubtedly lived in a very different time. Today’s hyper-interconnected world was just emerging, and more business was carried out using locally sourced products. Now companies operate through a complex and sophisticated web of supply chains that span the planet. Products are created and assembled across multiple jurisdictions, and delivered to our front doors within hours of us purchasing them online. We have much more understanding of who is creating the things we buy, and about the lives they live and the challenges they face. At the sharpest end, that leads to images of children working in sweatshops, or the appalling Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh.
Today, ethically minded consumers shop in line with their values in numerous ways, for example by following a vegan diet, buying organic cotton or using social enterprises. The ethical market in the UK is now worth £81.3 billion per annum. Millennials, in particular, are spearheading the idea that companies should operate in a responsible way, and 66% say that they would pay more for sustainable brands—that paragraph was undoubtedly written by one of my millennials, but those of us who are older also recognise that we played our part in the past by supporting Traidcraft and Fairtrade, and the way they got going. There is no doubt, however, that that pioneering work by the previous generation has been well picked up by the millennials of today, and we congratulate them on taking it forward. In the late ’70s, Traidcraft was one of the first organisations to shine a light on the working conditions of those who made our products. That is a vital legacy, and a theme that continues through the work of commerce today.
I am enjoying the points the Minister is making. Will he also pay tribute to the role of Traidcraft in establishing standards for corporate reporting? I think Traidcraft was the first plc to publish a proper social impact report, which was very influential across the entire plc sector.
I will indeed. Such reporting has increased the sense of responsibility not only of companies, but of consumers who ask the right questions and ensure that those delivering products recognise the need to respond to their concerns. Those reporting changes were fundamental.
The influence of Traidcraft and Fairtrade is felt not just in hundreds of churches and community centres across the country where their products are a mainstay, or in the growth of the wider fair trade market, but across millions of consumer decisions in the UK that are made with sustainability in mind. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about values, and it is no surprise to those of us who have had contact with him to learn where his values come from. I cannot think of a better fit between an individual Member talking about his upbringing and the values he incorporates into his life, and what he does constantly in this House through his remarks and determination to secure the best of human rights, tolerance and fairness. It is a great mix, and I am not surprised at his connection with Fairtrade.
As the hon. Member for Blaydon said, Traidcraft has reached a crossroads in its journey, and with so many ways for consumers to express their values, it is rightly looking to explore new ways to improve the lives of poor people across the world. We wish Traidcraft well. The hon. Lady concluded her remarks by speaking of the ray of hope mentioned by the worker who also spoke of a new challenge, and undoubtedly that challenge will be faced with the same degree of determination that was possessed by those who set off on this course in the first place. I therefore hope we can have confidence for Traidcraft in future.
Wherever this challenge leads the organisation, it is important that the rest of us continue to strive for the principles that shine through its work—to ensure that trade is inclusive and sustainable, that any jobs created are quality ones, and that developing countries can truly grasp the opportunities of trade to reduce poverty and build a safer, healthier, and more prosperous world. In that, the work of the Department for International Development, alongside the Department for International Trade, is key, particularly at this critical moment in our history. DFID initiatives, such as the responsible, accountable and transparent enterprise programme—I will say more about that later in my remarks—work to promote responsible and sustainable business standards, and to identify and tackle modern slavery and child labour in global supply chains. With more than 40 million men, women and children trapped in modern slavery around the world, that is vital work. We must continue to tackle permissive environments that enable the criminality of modern slavery to thrive, which includes supporting businesses to clean up supply chains in key sectors where slavery persists.
Let me turn to some of the questions raised during the debate. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) and other colleagues spoke about the impact on this issue of our leaving the EU. As we leave the EU, the UK has a unique opportunity to shape our trade and development work for the benefit of developing countries, and I am proud of the work taking place across the whole of Government to ensure that development and global prosperity are at the heart of future UK trade .
I am grateful. The Minister may well have been about to answer this point, but the Government have confirmed that they will continue to provide the poorest and least developed countries with quota-free, duty-free access to the UK market, which I welcome. Can he give any reassurance to producers in other countries—not the least developed, but poorer countries— that EU-negotiated economic partnerships and free trade agreements will be rolled over so that after Brexit, producers in those countries will continue to have the access to the UK market that they currently enjoy?
Clearly the right hon. Gentleman has had prior sight of my remarks if he is asking such a perceptive question at this time. I will come to that issue in a moment.
Our immediate priority on leaving the EU is to deliver continuity in our trading arrangements, so that developing-country firms exporting to the UK do not face new and damaging trade barriers—that is one benefit of securing a deal on leaving the EU, rather than no deal, and the Government will determinedly strive for that, as will all Ministers. To that end, we will put in place a UK trade preferences scheme that will, as a minimum, provide the same level of access as the current EU scheme by granting duty-free, quota-free access to 48 least developed countries, and generous tariff reductions to around 25 other developing countries. We will also seek to replicate the effects of the EU’s economic partnership agreements, which are development-focused trade deals with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. We aim to maintain the preferential access to UK services markets for least developed countries that is guaranteed through the LDC services waiver—that, I was pleased to note, is a better deal than the one currently offered through the World Trade Organisation, which is an important consideration.
As well as maintaining preferential trade access for around 100 developing countries, those trade arrangements also embed the principles of inclusive and sustainable trade that Traidcraft and others have long argued for. For example, the UK’s trade preferences scheme will include an enhanced tier similar to that of the EU, which grants special tariff reductions to developing countries in return for progress against ratifying and implementing international conventions on human rights, labour rights, the environment and good governance.
More trade does not have to come at the expense of workers, the environment, human rights or the growth of least developed countries, and the Government firmly believe that it is in everyone’s interest to avoid any kind of race to the bottom on standards. That point was at the heart of the remarks by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston when she asked what more might be included in deals, and my sense is that as these opportunities evolve, we should all press for the highest standards. As I said earlier, we have a minimum baseline, but that is not where the United Kingdom should be. We should be able to operate to higher standards, and we should work through them. My sense is that DFID and the Department for International Trade recognise that and wish to ensure it is the case. There is much work to do for these new agreements, and the House would not be fair if it took the bottom line minimum standard that we “must” have in place as our intention or ambition, because I am sure we will be keen for it to be developed.
The hon. Member for Strangford asked about modern slavery, and I shall say a little more about that. At last year’s UN General Assembly the Prime Minister launched the “Call to Action” to end forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking, in which specific commitments are set out, to address modern slavery at the national and international level. It has been endorsed by 43 countries[Official Report, 7 January 2019, Vol. 652, c. 2MC.] so far. On the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development announced a £40 million package of new funding, forming part of the overall £150 million spend that the Prime Minister committed the Government to at the UN. That package of support will help more than 500,000 vulnerable men, women and children, and includes £13 million for the second phase of the work in freedom programme, the UK’s £20 million contribution to the global fund to end modern slavery, and the £7 million of DFID support to Nigeria.
That is all in addition to existing DFID programmes such as the £8 million regional women and girls protection programme operating in Greece and the Balkans, protecting girl and women refugees by providing shelters and strengthening national counter-trafficking mechanisms, and the £22 million1 responsible business programme, which is spreading responsible business approaches. That international strategy, overseen by the Prime Minister’s taskforce, has the aim of driving down slavery in source countries to the UK, and others of high prevalence, and effecting change through multilateral channels.
A specific request to the Government was to update the official guidance to encourage companies to publish where they buy their goods from and the wages of their supply chain workers, and to consider legislation to make human rights due diligence mandatory. Are the Government prepared to make that commitment?
My remarks have gone even wider than the copy that was obviously supplied to the right hon. Member for East Ham. DFID has recently updated its supplier code of conduct to require companies to sign up to the UN global compact, thereby promoting responsible businesses and committing companies to take action to address such issues. Responsible business is about more than just small or one-off projects that create win-win outcomes for business and society; it is the expansion of firms’ core business in developing markets, embracing socially and environmentally positive conduct through supply chains. That is why we have updated the code. We are encouraging businesses to contribute to economic development in ways that are socially responsible and environmentally sound, and that help to defeat modern slavery.
Hon. Members raised the question of gender focus, and all DFID private sector work goes through a gender lens. We recognise the changes that have taken place, as well as the particular pressures on women when working through these issues. The Commonwealth Development Corporation has a gender strategy, and DFID has its Work and Opportunities for Women programme. As I have explained, there are specific programmes directed at supporting women.
The hon. Member for Blaydon asked us to consider legislation to make human rights due diligence mandatory. That is a matter on which we must encourage, rather than legislate. We are encouraging better reporting on human rights, through grants to Shift and the Ethical Trading Initiative. We also rank human rights performance through corporate human rights benchmarking. We do not have plans at present to make that mandatory through legislation. It would be difficult to enforce. However, the question of how to promote that and to work with others on it is much on our minds. I think that is important.
There is more we must do to ensure that the benefits of trade are spread widely, levelling the playing field for those on the margins. That is important between countries, which is why the Government have a range of programmes to support the least developed countries to benefit from global trade, including our flagship trade facilitation programme TradeMark East Africa, and the recently launched Commonwealth Standards Network.
The Minister is being generous in giving way. May I press him a little further on the question of access to the UK market for developing countries other than the least developed? I think what he has said to us is that the Government’s aim is to make sure that after Brexit, access will be available to other developing countries at least at the level provided by EU-negotiated economic partnership and free trade agreements. Can he confirm that that is their intention?
Will the Minister also tell us a little more about what the Government are doing to ensure that that aim can be delivered? For example, why can they not simply announce, “Yes, everyone is going to carry on with the access they have at the moment”? Perhaps he can tell us a little more about the mechanics of what needs to be done to deliver on the aim he set out, which I very much welcome.
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.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (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.
It seems to me that there has been a good deal of agreement on the issue of fair trade from all sides in this debate. All hon. Members who have taken part, whom I thank, have recognised the social impact and significance of fair trade standards and the use, as the Minister said, of fair trade as a key tool in poverty reduction.
It is amazing that, as many hon. Members have said, those fair trade volunteers standing in draughty church halls up and down the nation should have produced a real blast that has changed things for the better, leading to big business adopting fair trade standards and affecting producers in faraway countries, such as those banana producers in St Lucia mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). It has been a real turnaround.
Another issue that was picked up widely in the debate is the importance of inclusivity, of helping women and recognising their importance in trading and eradicating poverty. That is a key message that we must not forget: enabling women to trade and to support their families for a fair reward, and pursuing, as the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) said, the overarching campaign for justice. We have heard about the importance of the co-operative movement and its role in fair trade, which we must certainly recognise; the impact that not only Traidcraft—although most definitely Traidcraft—but many other members of the Fairtrade Foundation have had on big business; and consumers’ enthusiasm to follow fair trade, with a 7% increase in Fairtrade sales last year.
I welcome the Minister’s comments in response to the specific queries from Traidcraft. While his comments are very welcome, I am sure that Traidcraft and other fair trade producers will continue to push the Government to go one step further to ensure that we really can pursue fair trade, with an emphasis on gender focus and poverty reduction. Traidcraft has had a difficult time, but it has a plan and it will survive. It is not too late, by the way, to order for Christmas: we have until the 21st, so I encourage everyone to look out their catalogues and order. I wish Traidcraft well in its new role.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Traidcraft and the future of fair trade.