We must enable Fairtrade farmers to access our markets and generate even fairer profits, writes Jennette Arnold AM

Poverty is political. That is why our movement is committed to fair trade, which ensures better prices and decent working conditions for farmers and workers in the developing world. It rebalances conventional trade, with fairly traded products benefiting their producers.

The co-operative movement has put fair trade at the heart of the way we operate, be it our pledge to it in the Co-operative Party’s manifesto for London’s elections last year or the Co-operative being the first major retailer to endorse it.

I was a strong supporter of the campaign to make London a Fairtrade City, which succeeded making us the largest city with such commitments in the world last year. We’ve succeeded in getting twenty boroughs so far to declare as Fairtrade boroughs, including the three I represent at City Hall – Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest.

But not the Tories in Bexley. In voting down the community aspirations for their town to support Fairtrade, Tory Councillor Colin Tandy seemed unmoved by the plight of the poor in developing countries and suggested that we worry about “our own” before we think about those “in far off lands.”

Even ignoring his parochial argument, what Colin Tandy may have missed however, is that Fairtrade producers are not that far off at all; in fact they are right here and starting to gain a foothold in our market. Divine Chocolate, one of the country’s first mainstream Fairtrade chocolate brands to be aimed at the British market, is 45% owned by the co-operative of cocoa farmers in Ghana, Kuapa Kokoo.

Kuapa was born of the same pressures that our British co-operatives were born of two centuries ago: freedom from exploitation and fraud, and the desire to work hard to earn a decent wage. By combining forces, the growers were able to run more efficiently by cutting out middlemen and dealing with buyers more directly. In pooling their resources they were able to take a further share of the total profits of the end product by launching their own brand.

So it is time for Fairtrade to move to the next stage – a move to ownership. Imagine a situation where producers own an increasing proportion of the supply chain, are able to process more of their own product and capture a greater percentage of the profits of their hard work. Imagine some of the world’s poorest farmers able to collectively own sophisticated international businesses, just like Divine.

Co-operatives and Fairtrade are, at their core, about the same thing. Firstly both exist to deliver to their members a greater share of the profits and the benefits than could be possible in a traditional business in a sustainable way. Secondly, both think it is vital to be guided by their members if the company is going to be able to pursue long-term growth and enjoy long-term loyalty.

This is why so many Fairtrade organisations are co-ops: as democracy and ethics are already built into the business model it is easer to reconcile Fairtrade with it than with a conventional company. Fairtrade and co-operatives go hand in hand.

Jennette Arnold is Labour London Assembly Member for North East London.

This article originally appeared on LabourList.org