Harriet Lamb: Fair trade can put poverty in the dustbin of history

From a speech by the executive director of the Fairtrade Foundation, given at HM Treasury, in London

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Across the developing world, producers are trapped on a relentless roller-coaster of fluctuating prices with catastrophic collapses in the prices of major commodities - of coffee, tea, bananas, cotton, rice, sugar. These price falls are tearing lives apart - forcing people to give up their farms, to become labourers or city slum dwellers, to take their children out of school.

Take coffee: in 2001, prices crashed to the lowest levels for 100 years. Ethiopia depends on coffee for 67 per cent of its export earnings, and in the last six years lost close to $1bn as a result of the collapse in coffee prices. Take bananas: in the past three years, the price of bananas in our shops has fallen by 40 per cent. That's given the tragic misnomer of a "special offer". But our bargain is someone else's personal tragedy. There were once 11,000 banana farmers in Dominica. Until Fairtrade came, there were just 700 farmers left and social chaos loomed.

These are economic tsunamis that destroy lives, wreck communities and drag down whole economies. And they are all the more shocking - because they are not unstoppable natural disasters. This is not the force of nature unleashed in all its fury. This is man-made, and preventable.

We know we've arrived because we're in the Yellow Pages. In the latest edition, shoulder pads and pot pourri are out. Quad bikes, health spas - and Fairtrade - are in.

Our movement is ambitious. We want to create long-term, sustainable change - to open new horizons, to shift expectations of what is economically and socially acceptable in trade. Our ambition is just as great as the need. We are determined to go much, much further, and, through Fairtrade, to make our contribution to putting poverty in the dustbin of history.

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