[PRESS] By Annette McIntyre: Cristina Talens, ethical trading manager of Bettys.

13Dec07

Fairtrade status turns out to be a somewhat heady brew By Annette McIntyre Cristina Talens, ethical trading manager of Bettys.

Some might call it a storm in an ethically traded teacup but justice for Third World farmers has been the subject of some surprising disputes at Ilkley Parish Council.

An apparently non-controversial resolution to back fair trade has sparked concern within the council chamber as well as a heated debate about the pros and cons of the movement.

Not that there would appear to be too many cons on the face of it, and just two years ago Ilkley Parish Council backed a resolution which paved the way to the town gaining Fairtrade status. But now disputes in the council chamber have been threatening to put that status at risk.

Under the terms of the Fairtrade status for towns councils have to re-affirm their backing each year. But in Ilkley councillors’ concerns over the wording of the resolution, and the full meaning of the word commitment’ led to it being officially recorded as failed’ after only two voted in its favour while seven abstained.

The move was surprising to say the least, but stranger things were to come.

In a development this week the council was forced to admit that members had actually backed the resolution by default in not voting against it. advertisement

It’s a confused situation and now it has been revealed that plans are afoot to bring the issue back to council and start all over again.

Chairman Heathcliffe Bowen is now hoping to in effect stage a re-run of the debate and he says he has the support of the resolution’s proposer, Coun Brian Mann.

Coun Bowen, who in his capacity as chairman did not vote, insists that he personally supports Fairtrade and buys Fairtrade products. But he said he had been uncomfortable with the way the resolution had been presented and with the options given to councillors.

Now in a bid to resolve the situation he wants the issue to come before the parish council again worded differently and after everyone has become fully acquainted with the intricacies of the issue.

He said: “I think the problem was around the word commitment. Nobody had an objection to the ethos of Fairtrade. I buy Fairtrade products myself so I support it personally.”

“Some of the problem was in the way the information was presented to the council.”

Now in a bid to seek clarity he is hoping to take the issue back to the council again.

“So hopefully we can bring a resolution back to council that everybody agrees with,” he said.

“I think the feeling at the time was that it had been very much placed before the council and they were not really in full possession of the information. There was no objection to the ethos – everybody was quite happy with that.”

He added: “Both Brian and myself will be working together on this and hopefully I will be able to meet with some official representative of Fairtrade to get a bit more information about it. And hopefully we will take it back through general purposes – which we can do. There is a facility in our standing orders to do that.”

There had been some concerns about local businesses missing out to farmers from developing countries but Coun Bowen is hoping that by taking the issue back, councillors will be able to find out with what Fairtrade is all about and will be able to come to a decision based on a good understanding of the subject.

He stressed that he was not prepared to pre-empt what the decision might be. But he added: “I am just hopeful that at least people can be informed about it.”

And he is stressing the importance of voting instead of abstaining the next time the issue comes up to ensure a democratic decision is made.

“I think Coun Mann did the best job he could do but I don’t think the council was quite prepared for the debate really because there just wasn’t the information there.”

He feels it would be useful to find out more, and he added: “I think the lesson we have learnt is that we should all vote one way or the other.”

But Coun Mann said he did not see the need to re-open the issue.

“As far as I am concerned the resolutions I put before council were accepted by council. I know seven of my colleagues abstained but that was the position – the vote was won. Why he wants to re-debate it I don’t know.”

He believes that if it does go back to the vote it will go in favour of Fairtrade. And he stressed the need to draw a line under the issue and to show support.

“Fairtrade is all about ethical trading which is all about guaranteeing a reasonable income for reasonable products for farmers mainly in the Third World.”

But he stressed this did not mean our farmers would lose out, and he said that the principles of ethical trading could be applied to them as well.

He said: “To be honest I don’t think the council was prepared for the debate we had last time. They clearly hadn’t thought about the issues, and if a subsequent debate brings these issues to the fore then it is obviously for the good.”

But he said he didn’t personally think it was necessary to take another vote, and he argued the case for drawing a line under the issue and moving on.

“The essential issue is that the parish council should get behind the Fairtrade movement that has done a lot for this town.”

Coun Mann pointed out that his own motion mirrored a district-wide resolution which had already been passed by Bradford Council. He said Leeds City Council was also very strong supporter of Fairtrade.

And he said he was surprised at the reaction to something so non-controversial. “I was stunned almost to silence – I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

“To say charity begins at home’ is a ludicrous statement on that topic in a town like Ilkley.”

He added: “The first time that this came up before the council a couple of years ago it was a similar uphill push.”

But whatever the ins and outs of the debacle it is not all bad news.

“It has been good publicity. It has certainly brought Fairtrade to the fore,” he said. “In our affluent country if we can’t do something to support others less fortunate than ourselves then it is a poor thing.”

The head of Ilkley’s Fairtrade group, Rosie Tudge, said there had been a huge reaction to the council’s stance – she has received numerous emails and letters expressing surprise at what had happened and pledging support to the cause.

And she stressed how vital it was to have continuing support from the council.

“Ilkley Fairtrade was able to come about because initially the council passed a resolution supporting Fairtrade in Ilkley. That was our starting point, because without their resolution we can’t do anything.”

She said businesses, shops, schools and churches had already been willing to come on board but they needed the council’s backing.

“We were just waiting for the council and they were brilliant, ” she said. “That was over two years ago – so we are just really surprised that they are still having some doubts about it.”

“Really it comes from a lack of information on the subject and a feeling that we are actually penalising by Fairtrade our local farmers and our nation.

But she stressed that Fairtrade products, such as coffee and bananas could not be grown in this country. And she said people who were concerned about ethical trade in the Third World were usually also concerned about fair treatment for British producers.

She stressed that support for Fairtrade from companies such as Marks and Spencer and Tesco showed how important a concern it was to the general public.

“So we even find that something like Nestle actually has one product that is Fairtrade – it shows how worried some of these big companies are about their image.”

She stressed the importance of the parish council maintaining its support if Ilkley was to retain its Fairtrade status.

“It is OK if one school pulls out, but if the council pulls out then we lose it,” she said. “I don’t think they understand how important they are.”

Her views were echoed by Otley’s MP, Greg Mulholland, who is a fervent supporter of Fairtrade.

“I have long been a supporter of Fairtrade and am delighted that Otley is a Fairtrade Town and that Otley Town Council is clear and unequivocal in support of Fairtrade products.

“Some Ilkley councillors seem to have got very confused about this issue. The reality is, that Fairtrade goes hand in hand with initiatives to support locally produced products.

“Many local independent stores and farmers’ markets specialise in locally sourced, locally produced goods and also sell Fairtrade products. What we want to see is a fair deal for producers here in the UK and in other countries.

“Also let’s remember, Fairtrade products that a council has to commit to are mainly tea, coffee and cocoa – none of which are produced in this country.

“So this is about commonsense but also about ensuring that producers get a fair deal for their produce. This is important for coffee growers in developing countries and for dairy farmers in Yorkshire.

“By rejecting Fairtrade, all a council ise doing is allowing the huge corporations to continue to rip off farmers and producers. That will do nothing for local business as well as turning our backs on the scandal of farmers in poor countries being paid a pittance for their crops that generate vast profits for multinational companies.

“The Fairtrade initiative has transformed the lives of many people in developing countries who now can make a living from their sought after products and it should have the support of councils and consumers up and down the country.”

Bettys in Ilkley is one of those which supports Fairtrade, and it prides itself on the fact that ethical trading has always been an intrinsic part of its business.

The company’s ethical trading manager Cristina Talens said: “I think sometimes people get the messages mixed. They sometimes think we are supporting farmers abroad but not supporting our own farmers. I think that is one bone of contention.”

She said Fairtrade was a mechanism to protect farmers in developing countries but it was not detrimental to farmers in this country.

She added: “I don’t think you have to have a Fairtrade logo on everything that is ethically traded – we certainly don’t have a logo on everything, because some of the farmers don’t meet the criteria for Fairtrade.

“The Fairtrade logo is not the only guarantee that businesses are behaving ethically , but the Fairtrade mechanism is probably the only thing that exists out there that people recognise. If all businesses had our approach to ethical trading you wouldn’t need something like a Fairtrade logo. But basically it is a good thing to have Fairtrade.”

12:05pm Thursday 13th September 2007

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