Saturday, 20 February 2010


It warmed the cockles of my heart, it did! I took my daughter to the ‘Fun & Safety’ event at Hailsham Children’s Centre during this half-term week, and there for all the kids to help themselves was a table full of fresh fruit: apples, bananas, melon and pineapple, all cut up into bite-size pieces.

So many of our society’s problems can be put down to children eating junk. Sure, a few sweets and chocolates are part of childhood, and the odd meal of processed food won’t do any harm.

But a range of ills from hyperactivity and short attention spans to early-onset diabetes are fed by the habit we have got into as a nation of giving our youngest citizens the worst start in life in terms of their diet.

That’s why it was so reassuring to see the fruit table, the contents of which had been provided by Waitrose. Kids love fruit – that was obvious from the way they devoured it, especially the boys. Of course most would prefer sweets if you offered the choice, and yes, there were a few mums who had brought sweets to hand to their offspring, but for most it wasn’t necessary.

The next trick is to get the fruit to be all fairly traded. That may sound like trying to gild the lily, but it’s a legitimate aspiration that’s being taken very seriously in Uckfield and Crowborough over the next fortnight.

‘Fairtrade Fortnight’ is the kind of thing that will pass most people by, largely because every week of the year is some cause’s week. But fair trade ought to be thought of as a sign of a civilised society every bit as much as having a public health service to protect us all in our hour of need.

Several years ago I researched, wrote and presented some newspaper articles and a short programme on the BBC World Service on the ethics of sports goods manufacture. I was shocked to find that a pair of branded trainers selling for $80 had earned the guy in Asia who’d made them less than $1. In other words, the other $79 was all middlemen, marketing and profits. OK, so $1 will buy a lot more in Malaysia or the Philippines than it does in America, but it was still a paltry fee.

That shouldn’t happen, and that’s what the fair trade system sets out to tackle. It’s not a perfect system, because the minimum wage in some countries can be pitifully low as governments strive to attract first-world investment. But it’s the best system we have, and it’s a lot better than leaving everything to unregulated markets.

Uckfield and Crowborough are both ‘fair trade towns’. That’s no idle designation – there are minimum levels of free trade products that have to be offered, so they can lose their status if they don’t keep up the required levels. That’s why it’s vital that people shopping in Uckfield and Crowborough ask for free trade products – it’s both morally right, and the sign of a civilised society.