Time to turn up the ‘justice’ volume

September 15, 2014

At Traidcraft’s annual meeting last Saturday, the inspirational Tomy Matthew, founder of Fair Trade Alliance Kerala, challenged us all to make sure the ‘justice’ content of fair trade is maintained and grows.

Fair trade has always been about much more than overcoming poverty. At its best fair trade is about identifying injustices in trade and tackling them – wherever they are. That is why Traidcraft does so much more than just trade with our producer partners. We help businesses to develop new and better products and keep more of the end value, we encourage them to sell to a range of customers – giving them choice and lowering reliance on a single retailer – and we challenge injustice through our campaigning work.

We have been using our practical experience as a social enterprise to call for better practice by all British companies for many years. And there have been some great improvements. Companies now have to report on their social, environmental and human rights impacts – thanks to changes to company law won back in 2005.

The Ethical Trading Initiative is supporting companies to understand their supply chains better. And we have welcomed the progress by some companies who have moved beyond the rhetoric of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’. Such companies are working to integrate better practice into the nitty gritty of their business operations – such as decisions about where they buy from or how they work with suppliers.

But there is still so much to do. The UK is the largest international market for fair trade, with sales reaching £1.8 billion, but even in iconic products such as coffee, fair trade sales account for only 8 per cent of the UK market.

The challenge is then to reach the remaining 92 per cent of the market. This may be products with no consumer face, or in segments where the price pressure outweighs ethical concerns. We need to move beyond a voluntary approach. And that means flexing our muscles as citizens.

The time feels right to step up the level of challenge to injustice in trade and to call for stronger political action on corporate accountability.

Traidcraft’s new Justice Campaign starts from the principle that it is morally wrong for companies to get away with things in developing countries that would be completely unacceptable in the UK. If we are really going to improve the behaviour of all companies we need to end this current situation of impunity. We need to ensure that British companies can be held accountable – in the UK if necessary – if they harm people overseas. Put that simply it actually feels shocking that that is not already the case.

We are calling on our political leaders to consider how to enable justice for those who have suffered at the hands of British companies. Please join us and together we can rise to Tomy’s challenge of keeping justice at the heart of trade.