We need a fair trade movement in Britain to tackle the scourge of poverty pay

11th March, 2017 7:00 am

Fairtrade is paying a price that means the seller can make a living from making a product. Not an excessive profit but a living that means their business is sustainable and where the seller can pay their employees a fair wage. It also means that customers are not exploited for excessive profits. These key principles gave birth to the co-operative movement, as the Rochdale pioneers pooled their money to buy wholesale for a better price than they could get individually. Now, a billion co-operators are members of 1.4 million co-operative societies with two key aims: making sure no one gets ripped off and ensuring no one has poverty pay. Co-operation and Fairtrade are just as relevant today to workers in the UK as it was then or as it is to workers across the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, the cycle of low salaries has already started and thanks to exploitative employers, many British people receiving poverty pay are struggling to make ends meet. It seems that a new company is exposed for appalling and, in some cases, illegal working practices every week. Low pay and bad treatment have been found too often. Those people working in poor conditions now may not be able to afford Fairtrade products while their wages continue to be so low. It is up to all of us in the Labour Party to campaign and ensure the implementation of fair pay, good, safe working conditions and to put our money where our mouth is to pay a fair price from ethical businesses. This will teach business that poor salaries and working conditions are not acceptable.  Having principles may have a price, but having no principles has a much greater price for all of us.

The Labour and Co-operative movement and trade unions need to make the case for Fairtrade in a British context and how it relates to exploitative employers, poverty pay, poor working conditions and making sure we can buy without being exploited. If we do not, we risk making Fairtrade an irrelevance and exploitative capitalism will make it a luxury we cannot afford by pushing us all further down the poverty pay cycle.

The way to stop the poverty pay cycle is to build the economy with quality employment in sustainable businesses. But that is not what Theresa May has planned for us.  Her threats to the other European Union members, to reduce corporation tax if the Brexit deal is not good for Britain will bring low value jobs to the UK and only on a temporary basis.  The corporation tax will mean that businesses that move here will want to cut costs as much as possible and that includes wages.

The Fairtrade foundation is an excellent organisation whose focus is on Fairtrade in the developing world. It is a campaigning organisation as we cannot legislate in those countries. This work must continue.

A key objective of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office must be fair, ethical trade across the world with all countries to build better societies and by doing so, to promote an fair and friendly United Kingdom. All of this will help fair trade at home!

We need a British Fairtrade minister whose responsibility it is to promote ethical business practices and fair pricing for consumers. A minister for British fair trade could, for example, look at the champion legislation to prevent extortionate prices for ticket resales by companies who use their technology to exploit tickets sale, without actually providing anything themselves. Not a single minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has business ethics or Fairtrade as a responsibility. No wonder our people feel exploited by globalisation when so little is being done by this government to protect them.

Fairtrade fortnight runs to Sunday 12 March. We need to promote Fairtrade in a way that makes it relevant to the economic problems in this country and our relationships with global markets.  We need to do this in a way that does not alienate the people who are already on poverty pay. Fairtrade, co-operation and trade unionism go hand in hand. We have something on those who want to make Fairtrade an irrelevance.  They have fear and hate. We have passion, compassion and experience. Our communities are struggling and hurting! We need Fairtrade too!

Janine Docherty is a Labour Party activist from the north east and is a candidate for the Co-operative Party national executive committee.

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