Tony Cunningham MP: Fairtrade: An entrepreneurial, responsible private sector is key to sustainable growth

Tony Cunningham MP, shadow international development minister, write for Left Foot Forward

At the beginning of Fairtrade Fortnight, which ended last week, I, along with other Labour MPs, had the opportunity to meet the human face of fair trade. We listened to Palestinian olive oil producers, and the managing director of Divine ChocolateSophi Tranchell, who spoke about the great advantages fair trade business can bring.

Fairtrade-logoThe producer’s story was one of courage, resilience, and determination to support, through their own hard work, their families and communities.

I have been involved with the fair trade movement for almost 30 years; we have come a long way since the coffee in the early 1980s. What a transformation has taken place in the intervening years.

Fair trade’s expansion is a great success story; between 2010 and 2011 there was a 12% increase in sale. Its growth is a testament to the producers themselves as well as organisations like the Fairtrade Foundation and Traidcraft.

The fact that, even in the midst of the biggest economic downturn in decades, fair trade retails grew last year is a testament to the UK’s sense of global justice and fairness.

Sales now top £1.32 billion; sending a clear signal to businesses that British people care passionately about fair trade and will vote with their feet to support it.

Fair trade doesn’t just mean better prices, it allows developing countries to improve working conditions, local sustainability, and ensure fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world are upheld and defended. Fair trade gives the British public a simple, regular and rewarding way to support the developing world. Significantly the farmers use the profits to provide education, mobile health clinics and other vital facilities within their communities.

Fair trade businesses are a perfect example of Ed Miliband’s call for more responsible capitalism; they are ‘fairness in tough times’ at its best. Responsible business is now firmly on the political agenda.

For responsible capitalism is not just about tackling bonuses to bankers at the top. It must also be about making business work better for the livelihoods of people at the bottom too.

As we begin to contemplate the post-2015 agenda, this type of trade and business model must serve as a reminder there are new avenues to explore; an entrepreneurial and responsible private sector are at the heart of sustainable growth. Fair trade is a living example of putting responsible business into practice. A genuine step in the right direction, it allows consumers to have a global reach.

Fair trade, in my view, shares the basic principle that persuaded me to join the Labour Party, so many years ago – better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers. Fair trade is good for farmers and consumers and I can only hope Fairtrade Fortnight will help to inspire more people to start buying fair trade in the future.

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