Trade Justice

It was a relief to see the recent Johannesburg Earth Summit almost entirely free of violence. It reminded me of another non-violent day in June when 10,000 Trade Justice campaigners came to Parliament to demand a level playing field in trade for the developing world.

Demonstrators can make their point effectively without recourse to violence and in June people were able to put their message across much more clearly and to many more parliamentarians because the atmosphere was not threatening. The same I hope, though I was not there, was true in Johannesburg.

Meeting my constituents, like many other MPs, it was clear how much passion and sensitivity continues to be felt today by English people towards the developing world. And I believe there is a much better awareness now of the needs for long term improvement in the financial status of many third world countries.

Sending money and food in itself has only highlighted the difficulty for many countries to find long term solutions for themselves. The crucial element is for countries in Africa, the Indian sub-continent, South America and Far East countries to be able to trade freely and fairly with the industrialised countries.

Clearly this is a complex matter. Many products in Britain today are manufactured throughout the developing world by factories created and built by global operations to provide low-cost goods to their home countries.

Everyone recognises that Europe and the United States are guilty of protectionism, subsidies and the dumping of vast agricultural surpluses but a complete free-for-all might, in the short-term, could cause huge unemployment in industrial countries that would be impossible to survive in the short term.

But there are ways forward. One hopes that the Common Agricultural Policy in Europe will be massively reformed as the European Union enlarges but the area in which we can all take an immediate part is in supporting Fair Trade.

The movement towards Fair Trade has a lot of momentum today. But it also means that there will be people seeking to identify their products as Fair Trade when they are a world away from fulfilling the true objectives of the economic movement.

Many people are used to seeing the Fair Trade shops of organisations such as Oxfam on high streets and it is clear that the origins of Fair Trade hark back strongly to Christian and charitable institutions. But now is the time for Fair Trade to be a valuable part of the international business system.

Fair Trade offers consumers a chance to buy products that they know have been made under good pay and working conditions and with consideration for a sustainable environment. But Fair Trade only exists because of the enthusiasm of people dedicated to support its development. Advance payments are often necessary to start up co-operatives and small businesses in the developing world and then there needs to be the promise of long term support to give these start-ups a real chance to develop and become part of the trading world.

In London during June and in Johannesburg this August it was easy to see the enthusiasm and the consideration that so many people feel towards the environment and supporting the developing countries. It may be the role of politicians to ease the flow of trade across country boundaries but it will be to no avail if we, the consumers, do not spend our money on goods created with a consideration for the environment and the workers that produce them.