Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Hebden Bridge is the place to be for chocolate lovers this Saturday, 5th March, whether it's chocolate to eat, to drink, or to flavour cakes and biscuits, as the town's Fairtrade Forum celebrate "Fairtrade Fortnight" with their Chocolate Festival at the Holme Street Arts Centre, (next to the post office), from 11 to 3.

Manchester announced this week that it had become the 100th place in Britain to hit the targets needed to become a "Faitrade Town" (or City in their case). Which only goes to show how ahead of the game we are in Hebden Bridge, where we have been proud of that status for coming up to two years.

Across the UK the first two weeks of March are celebrated as "Fairtrade Fortnight", and this week it was announced that sales of fairly traded products have risen by 50% over the last year. This phenomenal uptake is due to more and more people realising that, simply by the way we shop, we can make a real difference to the lives of the people who produce the food we consume.

Leading the way often are schoolchildren who learn about fairtrade and see that it makes such obvious sense. They question why we would want to trade in any other form, and change the way the household shops.

The Fairtrade Mark is a reliable, independently checked, sign that the producers of any goods bearing it are being paid enough, not only to cover production costs, but with a margin to invest in improvements like healthcare, schools, water and sanitation - all those things which we the consumers take for granted. And, by cutting out the "middleman" - usually profit-driven conglomerates who use their power in the market to force prices down, this can often be achieved without a cost increase over the competition.

Of course the big guns are hitting back, with household brand names planning to offer an "ethical option", but these often incorporate just a proportion of fairly traded material, or may be organic but not fairtrade. So, check before you buy, and if in doubt - ask! The future of fairtrade depends on you and me insisting that the supermarket shelves stock the brands that carry the Fairtrade Mark.

There's hardly a café or shop in Hebden Bridge now that doesn't offer a fairtrade option, and some major national chains, such as Coop's chocolate or M+S cafes are entirely fairly traded.

The Hebden Bridge Fairtrade Forum, a voluntary body set up to gain the coveted status for the town and to promote the use of fairly traded goods, is using Fairtrade Fortnight to launch the new edition of the town's Fairtrade Directory, which lists all the places which have signed up to the ideal. This time the directory includes not only food and drink but sources of clothing and craft goods.

But back to the Chocolate Festival. If you want to know more about how your shopping habits can change the world, or just fancy a good cup of hot chocolate (or tea or coffee), drop in to the Festival. where you cans sample a range of products, learn how coffee growers in Ghana came to own a chocolate company in the UK, or just sit down with a comforting brew for a few minutes. The local MP and mayor will be dropping by to add their support, and there are stalls and activities for kids. And if you are already a fairtrade user - thank you, from across the world!

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