Fairtrade Fornight 2015

Harriet Lamb, in a banana suite for Fairtrade Fornight 2015

Like my banana suit? It has been widely admired and I wear it with pride (whenever the opportunity presents itself –which is more frequent than you might imagine).

When I began working in Fairtrade in 1999,I held the wonderful title of Banana Coordinator. Now that is a title not many people can claim. You can see that this is what a Cambridge education prepares you for. Then – and now – it was always fun, but also deadly serious.

Then it was the early days of Fairtrade bananas. We were still discussing if and how we could launch Fairtrade bananas in the UK; we worked with a handful of groups and a bucketful of problems from shipping to quality.

Today, as the UK celebrates Fairtrade Fortnight, Sainsburys, Waitrose and the Co-op only sell Fairtrade bananas and you can buy them in most supermarkets. We’re now working with 113 banana producer groups in 11 countries representing 27,000 people who in 2013 sold an average of 60 percent of their production on Fairtrade terms and earned over £12 million in Fairtrade Premiums to invest in their communities.

It is an impressive change, driven by ordinary people telling supermarkets and canteens, coffee shops and schools that they want to buy Fairtrade. But it is always difficult.

Take sugar, for example. We’d made huge strides with companies like Tate and Lyle converting their bagged sugar to Fairtrade and generating huge volumes of sales on Fairtrade terms for smallholders in Belize and Fiji.

And then, wham, bam, thank you ma’am, the EU changes its quotas, which makes European beet sugar more widely available, prices have collapsed – falling by 23 per cent in the last five months alone and so all cane sugar, including Fairtrade, is being taken out by supermarkets. It is bad news indeed for the sugar smallholders who are watching their sales fall off a cliff. Even the government’s own Department for International Development predicts that this change will push an extra 200,000 people into poverty by 2020.

Which is why we have to keep campaigning and keep pushing for more Fairtrade sugar. We know that campaigning works – that’s what put Fairtrade on our shop shelves and that’s what will keep it there. And along the way you get to dress as a banana. What more could you want?

Harriet Lamb (TH 1979)