Fairtrade Fortnight ends this weekend. Here Member of the European Parliament Linda McAvan reviews the events of the last two weeks and the role that co-ops play in the Fairtrade movement.

Throughout the Fairtrade Fortnight I have been tweeting my favourite Fairtrade products and asking other people to tweet theirs too. What has become clear over the last two weeks is just how many different products there now are in the shops. It is quite possible to spend your entire day using Fairtrade products: tea, coffee, marmalade, jams and fruit for your breakfast; a range of clothes from underwear to shoes and smart work items to dress in; oils, spices, ready meals and an inordinate amount of chocolate and biscuits to get you through the day; rubber gloves to do the washing up and make-up removal pads before bed. There is even toilet paper.

In line with the growing array of products available, is the increase in the value of Fairtrade products sold in the UK, with sales amounting to £1.32billion in 2011, an increase of 12% from the previous year. In some retail areas Fairtrade products are gaining increasing and impressive market shares, with 42% of all sugar retailed in the UK now Fairtrade. Closely behind are Fairtrade bananas, which will soon make up 38% of the market in the UK. Cocoa is rapidly catching them, seeing a 34% increase in its value since 2010.

Greater sales and more demand for Fairtrade products is, in part, down to the greater emphasis major businesses are now putting on Fairtrade. This Fairtrade Fortnight has seen the Co-op announce that it will only stock Fairtrade bananas and Morrison’s declare that they will only sell Fairtrade bagged sugar from Tate & Lyle.

The evidence suggests that this will be how Fairtrade will continue to grow and expand. Major companies, by deciding to only use Fairtrade products, as Cadbury’s have done with the Dairy Milk bar, provide the consumer with exactly the same product but also ensure that cocoa and sugar growers benefit from helping produce a chocolate bar with a huge market share.

The increase in Fairtrade sales of course means more farmers, workers and producers in the developing world are receiving a fair price for their goods and also receiving the benefits of the social premium attached to Fairtrade products.  This premium can then be invested in the local community, whether for a well to provide fresh water or to pay for educational facilities.

Central to the expansion of Fairtrade is the role of cooperatives.   While not all Fairtrade products come from cooperatives, a lot do and it will be these that will be in the position to cope and develop as Fairtrade’s popularity grows further. An individual farmer might struggle to produce 34% more cocoa in one year, but a cooperative could by increasing its membership and spreading the benefits of Fairtrade further again. Fairtrade cooperatives also offer another advantage – clout.   A Fairtrade cooperative allows small farmers to club together, giving them a stronger negotiating position when securing deals with retailers and manufacturers in the developed world. This can lead to a far more predictable income, allowing farmers and families to plan their lives without the risk of a sudden crash in value. A cooperative also enables farmers and producers to share their skills and knowledge with their fellow growers and workers, improving yields and efficiency and so benefitting all members.

Looking to the future, the strength of the Fairtrade cooperatives will allow them to take greater ownership of the goods they are producing. Currently most Fairtrade producers, especially farmers, provide only the raw materials and the chocolate bars and coffee bags we see are on shop shelves are processed elsewhere. By being able to access investment, cooperatives may eventually be able to invest in processing goods themselves, providing more jobs for their communities and a better return for their members. In 2010 Marks and Spencer’s became the first UK supermarket to stock a product like this when they launched a Fairtrade tea which is processed and packed in Kenya, where it is grown.

Whether it is cuddly toys, footballs, rubber gloves and yes, even toilet paper, I have enjoyed celebrating the boom of Fairtrade over the past couple of weeks.  We should also recognise the vital role cooperatives have played in building the foundations for this success and the crucial job they have in the future as Fairtrade adapts to meet the new demands of ever increasing sales. By putting people at the heart of trade, cooperatives and Fairtrade have shown profit and fairness are not mutually exclusive.

Linda McAvan is a Labour Member of the European Parliament and the founder and chair of the European Parliament’s Fairtrade Working Group.

You can follow Linda on twitter @lindamcavanmep

You can tweet your favourite Fairtrade products by using the hashtag #fairtradefavourites