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Harriett Baldwin responds to Fairtrade Fortnight Debate

7th March 2018

Harriett Baldwin responds to a debate in recognition of Fairtrade Fortnight and the valuable role of Fairtrade goods.

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Harriett Baldwin)

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.

Sandy Martin (Ipswich) (Lab)

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?

Harriett Baldwin

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.

Geraint Davies

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?

Harriett Baldwin

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.

Geraint Davies

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.

Harriett Baldwin

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.

Holly Lynch

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?

Harriett Baldwin

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.

Geraint Davies

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?

Harriett Baldwin

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.

Geraint Davies

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?

Harriett Baldwin

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.

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