by Barbara Crowther, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the Fairtrade Foundation
Dear Prime Minister,
A new Government is always an opportunity to build brave new ideas about making our society and our world a better, fairer and more sustainable place to live.
Your new Government takes up its task in the year that the global community will adopt a new set of ambitious Sustainable Development Goals. You have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring about real change for the poorest, uniting ambitions to tackle poverty, inequality and exploitation with the need to tackle climate change and halt environmental degradation.
We welcome the Conservative party’s manifesto commitment to upholding the target of spending 0.7% of GNI on meeting the UK’s international development commitments, especially at a time of austerity. Crucially, in line with OECD guidelines you have held to the commitment that UK aid will not be tied to promotion of British interests or businesses, but remain genuinely and transparently focussed on delivering the maximum possible impact for people in poverty. We note the ambition of your party to engage more directly with the private sector in the delivery of the UK’s international development agenda. We welcome this focus, but ask you to ensure that it will be subject to the same degree of scrutiny, evaluation and accountability to taxpayers concerning its delivery of benefit for the poorest as other aspects of the UK’s international development programme.
As an organisation working with over 400 businesses across the UK and part of a global network delivering market access and trade benefits to more than 1.5 million small scale farmers and workers across the world, we at the Fairtrade Foundation passionately believe in the power of trade to improve livelihoods, deliver investment into communities, and nurture entrepreneurial solutions to poverty and inequality. But that does not happen inevitably – it requires specific commitments, regulations and incentives to ensure the benefits of trade reach the many, not just the few. It requires the promotion of both sustainable methods of production, and sustainable forms of consumption.
It requires government policy, whether in the UK, across the EU, or at the level of global trade negotiations and the Sustainable Development Goals themselves, to ensure a coherent approach so that a pursuit of market interests by one country does not undermine the development prospects of another.
Right now, the lives of 200,000 small scale sugar cane growers across Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, are at risk as a result of the lifting of quotas for domestically produced sugar beet by 2017. We must work harder to ensure trade negotiations, corporate accountability regulations and government procurement policies are in line with our aspirations for global sustainability and our British values of fairness.
We welcome your pledge to champion the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) in the UK, to ensure suppliers get a fair deal from supermarkets. We call on you to use the review of the GCA in March 2016 to widen the scope of this mechanism so that indirect suppliers – such as the 1210 producer organisations in the Fairtrade system – may also seek redress and raise concerns directly with the Adjudicator. However we note that neither the GCS nor any other part of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, has the power to intervene if evidence is found that low prices here in the UK are directly contributing to continued poverty and exploitation, unsustainable farming practices or environmental degradation further down the supply chain. That is an issue that, if we are to meet the Sustainable Development Goals at all, must be investigated and addressed.
We also welcome the passing in April 2015 of a new Modern Slavery Act, and in particular the introduction of measures to increase Transparency in Supply Chains for companies, and require companies to report on their policies and activities to prevent, reduce and remediate any forced labour or slave-like practices, and protect the men, women and children caught up in these illegal practices. We stand ready to work with UK businesses NGOs and Trade Unions to leverage our experience, certification services and supply chain programme investments to bring about the long term eradication of all forms of Modern Slavery.
Finally, Prime Minister, you have a mandate to act. 80 percent of the British people, according to a survey commissioned by your last government, want the produce they buy to be ethically sourced – even at this time of economic difficulty. It is time for ethical and fair trade to become the norm, not the exception.
Will your Government help make it happen?