7 May, 2015

A vote for Fair Trade

by Duncan Haslam, Policy Volunteer at Fairtrade Foundation

With the General Election imminent, the outcome remains highly uncertain. What could we expect from a new government from Fairtrade’s point of view? Campaigners have been attending hustings and asking questions on doorsteps across the UK, asking that whoever is in Downing Street, the concerns of Fairtrade farmers and workers will be at the top of the agenda.

Our election guide 2015 gave an introduction to the Fairtrade Foundation’s advocacy priorities for 2015 – a call for fair food, fair business and fair trade. We’ve taken a look to see what different parties are promising on poverty reduction, sustainability, and ensuring fair trade for farmers and workers.

First of all, what are different parties saying about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? This is the new framework of poverty reduction and environmental sustainability goals which are due to be adopted by world governments in September. Getting a strong agreement in place is key to tackling poverty in the future.

  • The Conservatives are backing the SDGs. They pledge to continue spending 0.7 percent of the national gross income on international aid and improve access to education, nutrition and sanitation for tens of millions of people.
  • The Labour Party will ‘work with other countries to develop the SDGs so to eradicate extreme poverty’. They want other governments to match the UK’s 0.7 percent aid spending mark and place ‘human rights at the heart of development’.

  • The Liberal Democrats are also committed to the SDGs. They want to alleviate poverty by 2030, safeguard a sustainable planet and end discrimination on gender and ethnicity. They too will match 0.7 percent aid spending.

  • The SNP also commit to the 0.7 percent aid target. They want “a commitment to aid quality”, such as ensuring overseas aid is not used for defence related purposes or to undermine public services in other countries.

  • The Green Party will increase government aid expenditure to 1.0 percent of total spending. The party will aim to end AIDs, TB and malaria; violence against women as well as poverty. The Green Party will campaign to write off international debt for the poorest countries.

  • Plaid Cymru calls for strong post-2015 Millennium Development Goals that deal with the impacts of climate change, poverty and sanitation.

  • UKIP pledge to cut the UK’s aid budget from 0.7 percent to 0.2 percent of spending, refocusing the budget onto humanitarian aid. Their manifesto focuses on “trade not aid”, including highlighting EU import tariffs as a barrier to poorer country exports.

How candidates will ensure that the UK’s international development programme would listen to farmers and workers?

We asked this question because failing to consult farmers and workers can often lead to aid which doesn’t meet their real needs and priorities.

Most UK parties don’t directly address in their manifestos how their international development programme will do this, focusing instead on priority sectors for support. We know that most parties understand in principle the importance of consulting farmers, but our research into Public Private Partnerships found cases where aid programmes did not prioritise or deliver this in practice. So it looks like we’ll need to keep the pressure on our new government to get this right.

The Green party does say it will initiate ‘democratic discussions with international trade unions, citizen groups and the International Labour Organisation, to establish a global minimum wage.

coffee farmer What will candidates do to make sure that UK trade deals are fair for farmers and workers in developing countries, encourage sustainable livelihoods and do not undermine poverty reduction:

We asked this question because unless trade deals are agreed with poverty reduction as the top priority, they can undermine livelihoods for farmers and workers rather than supporting them. With big trade deals like TTIP under discussion right now, it is really important that our new government gets this one right.

  • The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats don’t say much on this specific point in their manifestos. We know from our previous work with these parties that they agree in principle that making trade work for the poor is important, and all recognise the importance of building sustainable jobs and livelihoods in developing countries. So the question is how committed they will be to delivering poverty reduction through trade in practice.
  • The Green party commit to encouraging farming to promote Fair Trade conditions.  The Green Party also say they will take the UK out of trade agreements that prevent poorer countries from controlling their economies.

  • UKIP’s manifesto says that they want to see the removal of trade barriers as a means to providing sustainable livelihoods for the world’s poorest people.

How will candidates make sure UK businesses are held accountable to deliver high standards on human rights, the environment and fair prices when they are buying from farmers overseas?

There were a wide number of commitments made in this area, a sign that politicians across the spectrum recognise the public interest in business acting fairly with their suppliers. Here, the devil will be in the detail of government policy, and whether it is tough and smart enough to make a difference.

  • The Conservatives will champion the Groceries Code Adjudicator so farmers receive fair deals from supermarkets.
  • The Labour Party highlights its support for workers’ rights in the UK’s overseas supply chains, saying that it will work with companies to ensure “they have sustainable supply chains that are free from slavery and treat workers fairly”.

  • The Liberal Democrats will require businesses sourcing from overseas to disclose human rights, social and environmental impacts in company reporting. They will maintain the Groceries Code Adjudicator and allow it to use “discretion when holding a supermarket responsible for the treatment of suppliers”

  • UKIP, if necessary, will reform the brief of the Groceries Code Adjudicator.

  • Plaid Cymru would like to see strengthening of the “Groceries Code Adjudicator to better protect Farmers along the supply chain”.


In summary, there are some positive signals, but an awful lot still to work for. So, if you’ve putting your prospective parliamentary candidates on the spot about fair trade – thank you for raising your voice! Once we know the outcome of the election, we’ll be calling on the new government for the fairest possible deal for farmers and workers. I hope you’ll join us!

If you’d like to join us in contacting your local MP, email us at campaigns@fairtrade.org.uk.

Fairtrade Blog