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26 February 2009

Fairtrade Fortnight

Times are tough and getting tougher, but we should still spare a thought for the 2 billion people – a third of humanity – who still exist on less than $2 a day.

As we approach the halfway point of Fairtrade Fortnight it is worth reminding ourselves that even as we tighten our own belts at home, we can still do our bit to help farmers and producers who are doing their best for their own families. As the recession starts to bite it has been suggested that this will be the end for the Fairtrade movement. Instead, I would argue that as the global economy is in a downturn, it is more important than ever that fairer trading practices become the norm.

Currently, many growers in developing countries produce their crops in the most challenging circumstances, often on the very brink of survival, and with no help from their trading partners to build long-term economic sustainability. All the power rests with the multinational buyers, who often offer such a small price for it that it barely covers production costs.

Fortunately, thanks to the Fairtrade movement, we can do something to help tip the balance of trade in favour of poorer producers. Fairtrade ensures that by buying goods with the internationally recognised mark, we can ensure that producers from poorer countries get a fair price and long-term security.

There are now more than 4,500 Fairtrade-certified products to choose from - everything from olive oil and wine to fruit, sugar, spices, rice and honey. Even with a weaker economy, last year Fairtrade products in Britain accounted for more than £700m, 43% up on 2007. Sales of Fairtrade tea have doubled in the UK over the past year and are now worth £65m, while Fairtrade coffee sales rose 16% to £137m.

Fairtrade reminds us that have a chance to do something constructive all year round - every time we go shopping, in fact. Often there is no difference in the price that we the consumer have to pay. The only difference is the proportion of the cost that finds its way back to the farmer and their family.

I know that across Edinburgh, people, local groups, schools and universities have been doing their bit to highlight the importance of fair-trade. Now is the time, not to retreat from Fairtrade, but to embrace the principles of fairness and a genuine reward for hard work. It is these same principles that we will need to depend on at home in the coming months. At the same time we must not forget to support them abroad.

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This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.