The sad existence of human trafficking, child or bonded labour, risky and treacherous work conditions, and unfair pay practices is enough to turn anyone’s stomach.
But before the emergence of the fair trade movement, there was little opportunity for shoppers to use their purchasing power to demonstrate their distaste. And no means for them to know whether a product they were buying was ethically produced or not.
In the 20 years since the inception of the Fairtrade movement, the UK has achieved a lot. One in five bags of coffee and bunches of bananas now come from Fairtrade producers, making us one of the leading global markets – with more products and greater consumer awareness than any other country worldwide. Last year, the estimated retail sales of Fairtrade products alone exceeded £1.5bn; and more than 1.3 million people – across 70 countries – are today benefiting from the international Fairtrade system.
We should be very proud that even in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, families across the UK are choosing to spend more on Fairtrade products.
The Labour Party had a big role to play in the growth of Fairtrade – we created the Department for International Development which helped to put ethical trade at the top of the government’s agenda; and we recognised the crucial role of decent work in transforming societies – boosting the UK’s investment in supporting poor countries to trade to over £400m a year, resulting in raised living standards and increased global prosperity.
Our support for Fairtrade helped millions of producers get the returns they deserved for their products – leading to better deals for small-scale farmers and workers worldwide.
As a Labour and Co-operative MP I am equally proud of the leadership shown by the co-operative movement. It was the Co-operative Group which sold the UK’s first Fairtrade bananas and the world’s very first own brand product to carry the Fairtrade Mark – entire product categories (including sugar, tea, hot chocolate, bananas and roses) are now classified as Fairtrade. And with a Co-op shop in every postal area, Fairtrade products are now accessible to almost every UK household. When it comes to Fairtrade, the co-op movement has again been a true pioneer.
But I’m also aware that there is still a long way to go. Until all trade is essentially fair, it is crucial that we all continue to campaign for transformative social and economic change.
Tackling poverty isn’t about charity, it’s about justice.
There is no better route out of poverty than a job, but for this to be true workers must have access to decent work, decent pay and rest breaks, and the freedom to join a trade union. I know that a future Labour Government will place ethical business at the heart of its development agenda. And as the Co-operative member of Labour’s DfID team I will work with the co-operative movement to continue to do everything I can to champion this cause.