Fairtrade Foundation statement in response to Oxfam’s report Behind the Barcode

Tea leaves

The Fairtrade Foundation welcomes Oxfam’s report which calls on all involved to act to tackle the all too common inequalities and abuses that many farmers and workers in developing countries have to face. These hardships should not be borne by anyone not least those in the overseas supply chains of retailers and businesses that supply us with many of the produce in our stores.  

Fairtrade is heartened by the progress made in the first year of the campaign and hope that this progress will spur everyone on to deliver more and greater change. For too long conditions for many of the farmers and workers who grow our food remain unacceptable at a time when they should be supported more.

We support Oxfam’s core recommendations to supermarkets of strengthening human rights due diligence, taking specific action on human rights risks, and investing in positive social action. The scale of the challenge is so huge that to achieve the change required a step change will be needed in the prices paid at farm level and a new commitment to tackling the abuses of human rights.

We also want to welcome the analysis and recommendations that Oxfam brings forward for the tea sector. Tea brands, retailers, national governments and plantations need to work together to improve the situation and Fairtrade is committed to playing its full part.

Wages need to increase, and prices paid for tea at farm/plantation level need to increase to enable living conditions and livelihoods to improve, and address the underlying drivers of the human rights abuses Oxfam highlights. A greater share of value from tea sales needs to reach farmers and workers if the money is to be found to increase wages and improve conditions, and this goal is core to Fairtrade’s work.

Government legislation in India is often referenced as a barrier to wage increases and structural reform is essential. We encourage action by state and national government to secure long term improvements to the legal framework governing wages and benefits in the tea sector, with reference to robust living wage benchmarks.

As referenced in Oxfam’s report, because of the endemic challenges in some parts of the tea sector, and in dialogue with all stakeholders, Fairtrade is currently conducting an extensive review of our work in tea. This includes a review of our global tea standard, which regulates requirements for production (including wage requirements), and of our pricing structure for the Fairtrade Minimum Price. We are grateful for the advice shared with us from labour rights experts and civil society organisations, including Oxfam, as we conduct this review, and we are particularly mindful of the perspectives of workers’ representatives.

Louisa Cox, Director of Programmes at Fairtrade Foundation said:

“Oxfam’s report shows that despite improvements from all retailers and others involved, much more needs to be done to ensure that some of the poorest workers at the bottom of our supply chains get a better, fairer deal.

For more money to reach workers a step change will be needed in the prices paid for tea at plantation level as well as through the supply chain.

“We have been encouraged to see the willingness of many brands and retailers to engage with Fairtrade’s proposals, but firm commitments are now needed if we are to change the tea industry for good.”