This year, Fairtrade Fortnight is focusing on the people, especially the women, who grow our cocoa.  So what better opportunity to combine our love of Fairtrade, Co-operatives (and chocolate!) than the London Co-op Council’s “Fairtrade and Co-operatives Working Together” event.

We wanted to attract first class speakers, so we held the event in the elegant Jubilee Room, just off Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament.  On the evening, the room filled with Co-operators who took their wine, Fairtrade juice and cookies and settled down for some excellent presentations.  We were honoured to be joined by MPs including Gareth Thomas, Seema Malhotra and Paul Sweeney.

First up was the Fairtrade Foundation, and I was thrilled that the chief executive Michael Gidney was there to introduce Julian Rosario from the Dominican Republic who is a cocoa producer.  Through his interpreter, Julian told us about his work, and also about the educational opportunities provided by Fairtrade within the community.

The next speaker was Paul Birch from Revolver Coffee.  Paul is a Labour and Co-operative candidate and Revolver is a co-operative which adds nicely to Paul’s other achievements with Revolver Records.  Paul talked about Brexit, and we do know and understand the uncertainties which Brexit is creating for Fairtrade farmers.

Whatever happens as we leave the European Union, we can be assured that Fairtrade farmers will continue to enjoy finance from the financial co-operative Shared Interest.  Sally Seddon from the co-operative spoke next, and she highlighted the Bees for Business project which supports women in becoming beekeepers.  Sally was interrupted by the division bell on an evening packed with Brexit votes, however it was heartwarming to hear how much hope Shared Interest brought to communities.

Back to chocolate now, and Sophi Tranchell, the CEO of Divine Chocolate taught us about how the chocolate is made.  It is hard work, and farmers and workers do deserve a fair deal for their efforts.  Divine Chocolate has been sourcing organic cocoa from the island of Sao Tome to make rich, dark chocolate bars, and I certainly learnt something about geography as it was the first I knew about the island in the west of Africa.  Sophi handed chocolate bars around, and this was much appreciated by everyone!

Our final speaker was Nicola Campbell, a volunteer from Lendwithcare.  It was quite moving to hear about the predicament of entrepreneurs and co-operatives in the developing world who just need what we would view as a small of finance to launch or invest in their businesses.  These businesses are the only means they have of feeding their families, and groups and individuals in this country sign up to choose which business to lend to, and whether to lend a small amount of the total needed, or the full amount.  Once the money is repaid, the group or individual will usually choose to lend the money to someone else, and so on.  So many enterprises benefit, and this all builds upon support for Fairtrade.

The whole event was extremely well received both by attendees and speakers, and one speaker commented on how clued up the audience was already.  I noted how there had to be an emphasis on women, as women have so much to gain from both Fairtrade and co-operatives.

It was also noted that there are fewer Fairtrade products in many of our shops, despite the rising popularity of Fairtrade amongst consumers.  The action point to come out of the evening is that we must all make a nuisance of ourselves and pester as many shops and supermarkets as possible to stock Fairtrade.  We need to see expansion, and for even more products become Fairtrade.

Here’s looking forward to more Fairtrade activities and promoting the cause even further within our party, and fighting to ensure our Government does all it can to help too.