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Scotland as FT Nation? When Fairtrade falls foul; Executive should clarify its exclusion

The Herald (Glasgow)

The Fairtrade Foundation aims to tackle the “injustice of low prices” by guaranteeing producers in the developing world a fair price. This effectively involves paying them an above-market price for their produce, provided they meet set labour and production standards. The premium is passed back to producers to spend on development programmes. Growing numbers of consumers support Fairtrade, both in concept and practice. According to a recent survey, one-third of British people buy Fairtrade foods when available, despite the generally higher prices. The endorsement of Fairtrade appears to be just as strong in Scotland. Indeed, Jack McConnell has stated his ambitions for this country to be a fair trade nation.

It is an ambition growing numbers of ethical-shopping Scots share. However, as has been the case with previous public statements from the First Minister, what is said and what is meant might not be the same things. A conference organised by East Ayrshire Council today, to promote fair trade, will hear delegates question the Scottish Executive’s commitment to acquiring the status Mr McConnell has backed publicly. As The Herald reports, they will also challenge ministers to make that commitment real by including Fairtrade products in the mixwhen considering public procurement tenders.

The EU has framed the rules for public procurement to ensure there is an open, global market in keeping with the spirit of competitiveness. The executive has interpreted this to mean that Fairtrade products cannot be included in the procurement process, content, perhaps, to allow the Westminster government to take the lead in a matter where, it can be argued, Scotland’s voice should be heard more loudly (as it should have been but was not in other policy areas).

The fair trade movement argues, however, that there is nothing in the rules to prevent Fairtrade products pitching for executive business. Clearly, this needs to be clarified. Can a country justifiably fly the Fairtrade flag, complete with logo, if its government restricts the foundation’s opportunties at the first hurdle? We need a ruling on the executive’s position. Meantime, Mr McConnell should be more circumspect in what he says about Fairtrade and fair trade.

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