Fairtrade has turned the tide

TWENTY years ago Fairtrade was barely heard of.Today, in Fairtrade Fortnight, KAREN HINDLE finds out more about the movement here in Suffolk - and took a taste test.

TWENTY years ago Fairtrade was barely heard of.

Today, in Fairtrade Fortnight, KAREN HINDLE finds out more about the movement here in Suffolk - and took a taste test.

IT'S been 40 years since the concept began of ethical trading and decent prices for the world's producers.

Today Fairtrade is a recognised way that consumers with a conscience can make sure they are buying products which don't and won't exploit others.

But the idea of a labelling system didn't get off the ground until 1998 - the birth of Fairtrade.

The Max Havelaar label was the first in the Fairtrade stable, named after a fictional Dutch character who opposed the exploitation of coffee pickers in Dutch colonies.

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Since then the Fairtrade organisation has been chipping away at supermarkets, trying to encourage them to stock their products and in turn trying to prick the conscience of consumers.

And at last that work has paid off.

Figures released to mark Fairtrade Fortnight reveal its producers have never had it so good.

Sales of Fairtrade products in the UK soared to £493 million last year - up 81per cent on 2006.

Bananas are the most popular with sales rising 130pc year-on-year to £150 million in 2007.

Coffee sales rose 24pc to more than £117 million while cotton soared by 660pc to just under £35 million.

In the last year the volume of Fairtrade goods sold in the UK has more than doubled.

Sales of Fairtrade tea rose 24pc to just over £30 million in 2007.

Sales of chocolate and other cocoa products rose 35pc to just under £24 million.

The sales figures are all estimates calculated by the Fairtrade Foundation on the basis of reported wholesale values, but they show that ethically traded products have arrived.

Harriet Lamb, executive director of the Fairtrade Foundation, said: “The fantastic increase in sales show the UK's public's huge and growing appetite for Fairtrade.

"After years of chipping away, Fairtrade is finally beginning to make some significant impression on the way we trade."

Such is the scale of the movement today that whole towns can apply for Fairtrade Town status.

This accolade is awarded by the Fairtrade Foundation when a town can demonstrate that it has met certain criteria.

The town council has to pass a resolution in support, and a percentage of retail and catering outlets and other businesses must show their commitment by offering fairly traded goods to their customers and/or employees.

Felixstowe is aiming to become a Fairtrade town and in 2007 the Felixstowe Fairtrade Forum was set up with the main objective of reaching that objective.

Fairtrade Forum secretary Stephen Wyatt said: “We are hoping to become a Fairtrade town this year. We have the support of the town council as well as shops and cafes in the town that stock Fairtrade products.

“We will be able to say that Felixstowe supports the principles of Fairtrade which supports producers and farmers in less developed countries and that is part of our town's economy.

“Buying Fairtrade goods helps ensure that disadvantaged producers in the developing world get a fair price for their produce. Part of the profit also goes towards community development.”

The forum has organised a number of activities and events to mark Fairtrade Fortnight including a competition to win a £75 Fairtrade hamper.

Here in Suffolk, Framlingham and Lowestoft are just such towns, with Beccles receiving its accreditation in January with a ceremony to mark the event being held next month on March 8 in Exchange Square.

Beccles resident and Fairtrade campaigner Wendy Moxon said:

However, the Fairtrade movement still has to win over some hearts and minds - or rather taste buds as some remember Fairtrade in its early days when the quality was not what it is now.

Beccles resident and Fairtrade campaigner Wendy Moxon said there is a variation of levels of quality in both sectors.

“It is like anything you pay more for better quality. With coffee beans producers want to sell their beans to the highest bidder and get the best price.”

Competition entry forms will be available from the Solar information desk in Hamilton Road. To enter people will have to collect three stickers from the participating outlets when they buy Fairtrade goods and complete a caption saying why they support fair trade.

Do you buy Fairtrade products? Whats your favourite Fairtrade food? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk