Blog for Scotland’s 10th Anniversary as a Fair Trade Nation

Photo of head and shoulders of Martin Meteyard
Photo: Martin Meteyard

For Scotland to become recognised in 2013 as the second Fair Trade Nation in the world (after Wales) was a momentous achievement – building on decades of activity in which Fair Trade campaigning was combined uniquely with business development aimed at putting principles into practice.

Even when I first became involved – as a buyer with Greencity Wholefoods co-operative in Glasgow in the mid 1980s, linking up with what was then Campaign Coffee Scotland – there were already enterprises in Scotland such as the Balmore Trust and the One World Shop in Edinburgh acting as showcases for producers in the global South.

At that point the main products on sale were crafts, but the potential for food products which might eventually elbow their way into mainstream markets soon became apparent. Campaign Coffee Scotland was transformed into Equal Exchange Trading co-operative, expanding from coffee to a range of wholefood products, sourced with the help of Twin Trading and distributed throughout the UK via a network of co-operative wholesalers.

Scottish and Nicaraguan people sitting together with flags of each country
Photo: Martin Meteyard

Twin also opened the door to direct contact with those behind the products. At Greencity we hosted visitors from Nicaragua and later Mexico. They too came from co-operatives. Equally the first UK supermarket chain to stock Cafédirect in the early 1990s was the Co-operative Group (then called CWS), whose active membership also made it an ideal partner when Fairtrade Fortnight was launched in the mid 1990s.

You’ll notice a bit of a theme here, because the fact that co-operatives are built around collaboration,  trust and transparency has always made for a very good fit with Fair Trade.

All that was long ago, of course, but it is important to recall the values that first put Fair Trade on the map, both in Scotland and more widely – especially since they sometimes seem to fade into the background amidst the present cacophony of competing brands and labels.

At its heart, Fair Trade is about people and how we do business with them – to put right global wrongs, imbalances and injustices in striving for a better world. It’s about dialogue and communication (so much easier now than when there was no email or internet). It’s about working together, agreeing standards and expectations, and being honest with each other.

And that was what lay behind the successful campaign to have Scotland recognised as a Fair Trade Nation. In the Scottish Fair Trade Forum we were under pressure from Government Ministers and civil servants to get this done sooner rather than later – especially after Wales declared in 2009. But to their credit they also understood that we couldn’t cut corners or fudge the numbers, and they kept our funding in place because we were open with them about the challenges (but also our determination to get there).

The process was painstaking, brilliantly supported by local groups who then as now were the backbone of the campaign. Slowly the numbers inched up towards the targets we’d set for Fair Trade towns and cities, local authorities, universities, schools, places of worship and so on – backed up by polling on public awareness of Fair Trade and purchasing of products.

But even then we couldn’t just go ahead and declare. The evidence had to be put in front of an independent panel, challenged and verified, before we and the Scottish Government could truly say: Scotland has met the criteria for being recognised as a Fair Trade Nation.

Ten years on, the challenge of being able to continue justifying that claim in a changing world hasn’t gone away. Climate change is wreaking havoc for many of our partners in the global South, as is the growing turmoil in international relations. How do we best respond?

Fair Trade has become an internationally recognised label and certification scheme, and that is a good thing in many ways. The balance in trade has slowly begun to shift ever so slightly in favour of producers. But with a few notable exceptions it is still the case that the majority of value in the final product is added here in the global North.

So I hope that in the next ten years we will see a growing emphasis on not just buying Fair Trade products, but also on supporting producers to develop the capacity to add more value themselves – and engage in more South-South Fair Trade as a consequence.

That would be very much in line with how we saw things when we set out all those years ago, that it’s essentially about human solidarity – the struggle to envision and create a better world in which we co-operate wherever we live.

Martin Meteyard, Chair of the Scottish Fair Trade Forum from 2009 to 2014.

Martin has also played an active role in the development of several Fair Trade businesses over the years, including Cafédirect and Zaytoun.

21 February 2023