THIS month, Scotland celebrates a decade as a Fair Trade Nation. We were the second country in the world to meet the stringent criteria, Wales having made history when it became the first nation to make the commitment to fair trade in 2008.

Neil Gray, Scotland’s International Development Minister, says: “Fairtrade Fortnight highlights how important it is to support farmers and producers around the world who are facing challenges because of climate change.

"As a Fair Trade Nation, Scotland recognises its place in the world as an innovative, influential, and caring nation. The principle of fairness is at the heart of our policies.”

Fair Trade grew from the “alternative” movement, fuelled by coffee mornings and wee stalls at community events run by passionate social justice activists such as Lesley Henderson of the Balerno Fair Trade Village Group, winners of the Scottish Fair Trade Community Award.

Henderson said: “We are one world and we need to make global systems fairer.

“Our community may not be able to change the world but we are doing what we can to raise awareness about being part of a global village where everyone matters.”

The ethos behind fair trade is hard to fault. It is a movement which has been growing for almost two centuries. The idea was powerfully articulated in the 1860 novel Max Havelaar when the Dutch author known as Multatuli wrote about the impact of the crushing inequalities of colonialism on the people of Indonesia.

The post-colonial trade model continues to trap people in a cycle which sees raw commodities exported to be processed in the Global North, stripping the growers – and their national economies – of the potential to add value to their products.

Many of the people who grow the cacao beans have never tasted chocolate. On average, cocoa farmers earn just 6% of the final value of a bar of chocolate. Fairtrade (the UK entity is the Fairtrade Foundation) represents the world’s largest and most recognised fair trade system.

It is a global organisation with the stated aim of working to secure a better deal for farmers and workers, which focuses on sustainable pricing, “with the safety net of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and the additional Fairtrade Premium, going further than any other certification label”. 

There is some concern about the growing numbers of multinationals and corporations which are setting up their own schemes, causing fears among campaigners that this will result in little more than a comforting illusion of ethical trading.

EVE Broadis has been involved in the business of corporate social responsibility for more than 30 years. She set up Fair Trade Scotland Ltd to ensure the people who grow the produce are visible and at the centre of the trading relationship.

Broadis said: “With many of these schemes, some producers might be getting better conditions than they did before but they are not getting the fair return they should be because we are still using a post-colonial model where farmers are only allowed to sell the raw commodity, not the processed product.

“The coffee farmers we deal with in Mzuzu [in Malawi] tell us the price they need and we work from there. Scotland should be supporting in-country processing which adds value for local producers.”

Jawahir Al-Mauly set up Ujamaa Spices in Glasgow to make a direct connection between Scottish consumers and the farmers in Zanzibar who grow them, often on tiny plots of land.

The “Spice Islands” of legend rise out of the Indian Ocean’s crystal blue waters. The spice trade is said to be the first example of globalisation in action, prized spices being worth more than gold. Now? Many of us walk past the little jars with barely a second glance, far less any idea where their aromatic contents come from.

“I am ethnically from Zanzibar and I wanted to do something to help develop a sustainable trade,” Al-Mauly explains.

“We are working to break the post-colonial model. The farmers have complete power over the end product and are involved in the whole process, so they get a say in the packaging and see where their spices are being sold.

“The turmeric we sell comes from two women in a village in North Zanzibar. They are so poor they can’t even keep a cow for manure. They are caught in a downward spiral. We pay them double the price for their turmeric than they got before. We are working with local permaculturists to develop training to help the farmers there, and we have a profit-sharing scheme. Ujamaa Spice might be a bit more expensive, but it is so powerful, you use less. Buying our spices gives people human dignity.”

Scotland takes pride in being a nation of global citizens. Being a Fair Trade nation means making connections, being actively inquiring, using our purchasing power to push for social and climate justice, and respecting the people who produce the food we eat.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign