12 March 2005

Wake up and smell the fairtrade coffee!

By Marguerite Finn

When I arrived in Norwich in 1969 I did not expect to stay long. Norwich and North Norfolk however, worked their magic and now - 36 years later - I would find it hard to live anywhere else. So, what is different about Norwich?

For me, Norwich tries to live up to being a 'Fine City' in all aspects of the name. It has managed to strike a balance between an all-out drive for economic growth on the one hand and the pursuit of ethical policies on the other. As I reported in a recent column, the Lord Mayor of Norwich is a member of the World Mayors for Peace Initiative, launched in 1982 to promote the solidarity of cities worldwide working for the total abolition of nuclear weapons. By 2003, a total of 554 cities around the world had signed up to the project and Norwich is with them.

Another ethical milestone was reached on 25th February 2005 when Norwich was declared a 'Fairtrade City'. So, when I noticed the distinctive Fairtrade logo on some goods in a Supermarket recently, I wondered about all the other goods that were not so marked. Did that mean that they were 'unfairly' traded? In search of an answer I discovered 'Fairtrade in Norfolk' (FIN) and I learnt that the city's new status was achieved after four years of solid campaigning by them to persuade shops and cafes to stock Fairtrade goods. Their success was built on the efforts of those pioneers of the local Fairtrade movement, who for 20 years or more quietly worked through their Churches or through NEAD (Norfolk Education and Action for Development) to highlight the problems of unfair trading.

What difference can a Fairtrade City make to producers on the other side of the world?

Fairtrade organisations buy direct from farmers who are guaranteed a fair and stable price for their products. This provides a decent income for farmers and their workers, investment in local communities, greater respect for the environment, a stronger position in world markets and a closer link with consumers. The FAIRTRADE Mark is a guarantee of independent Fairtrade certification, ensuring that working conditions at the far end of the production chain are independently monitored.

The consumers benefit too. They can buy good products with a clear conscience, knowing that the producers are being helped to a better life because of their action. This is empowering because in an over-regulated world, it is one of the few things consumers can do, simply and cheaply, to improve the lot of fellow human beings less fortunate than themselves. So, get your copy of the 'Fairtrade Guide to Norwich' available from The World Shop, 38 Exchange Street, Norwich NR2 1AX or at http://www.fairtrade-in-norfolk.org.uk/ and wake up and smell the (Fairtrade!) coffee.

The Fairtrade Foundation has provided a working model of good trading practices and by so doing, proved that fair-trading can work. Consumers are increasingly prepared to pay a premium to ensure that producers in the developing world are protected against wildly fluctuating market prices - sometimes caused by British farmers dumping exports, which depress farm prices in Africa and drive small farmers there out of business.

Those working with the Trade Justice Movement - who see what life is really like in the poorest parts of the world - bear witness to the brutalising impact of unfair trading, which constantly drives down prices to offer us 'bargains' in our shops. But as Margaret Hunter, Secretary of Fairtrade in Norfolk, said: "One person's bargain is another's raw deal".

Today there are more than 500 Fairtrade products to choose from - and the list is growing. The Fair Trade Foundation recently published figures showing that sales of approved products in the UK rose by 52% last year to £140million - compared to £92million in 2003. The Government, in recognition of this, has just announced a grant of £750,000, over three years to help bring more products to the market.

Fair trade helps an estimated 5 million farmers and their families. There's much more to do but Fairtrade alone cannot do it. Existing trade rules and practices must be changed and big businesses must be made more accountable. The Trade Justice Movement is 'on the case', trying to change expectations of what is economically and socially acceptable.

So, in answer to my earlier question; No, those goods without the Fairtrade label are not necessarily unfairly traded. Their producers might not have heard of the scheme. Ask your favourite shopkeeper to tell his supplier about it; then they won't have any excuse.

I am indebited to Margaret Hunter of Fairtrade in Norfolk for her contribution to this column.