Sugar grains in yellow bowl on wooden slat mat

Tate & Lyle Sugars and Fairtrade fight child labour together in Belize

Working with Fairtrade means that ASR Group, which owns Tate & Lyle Sugars, knows any labour issues in their supply chain can be tackled in a timely, responsible and ethical way.

Updated: August 2022

Tate & Lyle Sugars buys raw sugar from Belize, where sugar supports the livelihoods of more than 40,000 people and their communities. Farmers in Belize are dealing with the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and since 2015 they have been addressing the social, cultural and economic factors that drive child labour. And Tate & Lyle Sugars have been by their side.

What started the work together?

In 2016 when independent auditors found evidence of underage children working during school hours on two Fairtrade sugar cane farms in Belize, the auditors took swift action, suspending their certification and issuing corrective action to put things right before Fairtrade trading could resume.

For the sugar cane farmers it was a potentially crippling blow – the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) had been trading for more than 50 years and joined the Fairtrade system in 2008. For Tate & Lyle Sugars it was an unacceptable discovery that needed urgent action. Julia Clark from Tate & Lyle Sugars, who buy sugar from Belize, says: ’It is important that the sugar we buy is sustainably produced. It’s in our interest to make sure no young people are working on the sugar cane farms where we source our sugar.’

Fairtrade farmers, auditors and Tate & Lyle Sugars came together. ’We had a choice,’ says Leonardo Cano, Chairman of BSCFA. ’We wanted to become champions for children’s wellbeing,’ says Cano. ’We didn’t just want to do the minimum required to get our certificate back, we wanted to promote the rights of children and young people, to protect them from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation. This is all about building for the future.’

What are the benefits for ASR Group?

Fighting child labour is vitally important to these communities in Belize, so what are the benefits for ASR Group?

ASR Group’s ethical sourcing policy prohibits child labour so at Fairtrade we were happy to support with the Fairtrade methodology. The special position that Fairtrade occupies in the industry in Belize means that we can have more impact directly on the ground where it matters, through things like the Fairtrade International initiative: Youth Inclusive Community Based Monitoring and Remediation (YICBMR) system on child labour. The farmers, through their Fairtrade associations, have ownership of the problem and responsibility for addressing the social, cultural and economic factors that drive child labour. They are educating their members and monitoring compliance, even lobbying government for more support and legislative reform on this issue. 

‘Without the collaborative approach with Fairtrade it would have been very hard for ASR Group to achieve the same level of impact over such a long term,’ says Clark.

How did the partnership build for the future?

An awareness and reporting system was created. The awareness programme was introduced to all 18 branches of the BSCFA, followed by the introduction of an organisation-wide comprehensive child labour policy and child protection statement and procedures.

Fairtrade International also helped introduce a Youth Inclusive Community Based Monitoring and Remediation (YICBMR) System on Child Labour. The system was developed together with the sugar cane producers themselves to establish a self-governing system to detect and respond to child labour on a continuous and improving basis.

At the heart of the YICBMR programme is the active participation of children and young people, including adults in the communities who identify any risks to children’s wellbeing and make recommendations on how to respond to them.

The Youth Inclusive Policy has also been developed to enable decent youth employment, skills development, and business opportunities, including a Youth Advisory Group to input into BSCFA’s decision-making processes.

‘We are continuing to make plans to ensure that young people are involved in our small producer organisation and the building of a child labour-free future here in Belize,’ says Zune Canche, Protection Lead at BSCFA.

What is the situation now?

In July 2022, a major milestone was reached when the government of Belize launched a new strategy and policy to eliminate the worst forms of child labour by 2025. This followed collaboration with national stakeholders, producer organisations and Fairtrade.

The new policy makes several new commitments, including:

  • removing all ambiguities in the Labour Act as to what constitutes child labour
  • confirming the definition of a child across legislations
  • establishing clear inter-agency communication and data-sharing protocols in child labour cases
  • fostering the development of socially responsible code of ethics within the private sector.

‘This is an extraordinary development and a critical step in the right direction. Fairtrade has been hard at work for many years collaborating with government, NGOS, supply chain actors and smallholder farmer organisations, including communities, to ensure worst forms of child labour are eliminated in Belize,’ says Anita Sheth, Fairtrade International’s Senior Advisor for Social Compliance and Development (informal sectors).

At the strategy roll-out in summer 2022, Oscar Requena, Belize’s Minister of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labour and Local Government, and Andy Westby, Chairperson of BSCFA signed a Memorandum of Understanding, agreeing to collaborate on efforts to fight child labour and formalising their partnership ‘to make Belize a child labour-free zone’.

Both the Fairtrade system and ASR Group have exacting standards on workers’ rights and child labour. The audit’s discovery in 2016 of child labour shows that those standards are being continuously and robustly enforced. Child labour is addressed at the source with a long-term solution. Working with Fairtrade means that ASR Group know that any issues in their supply chain in Belize can be tackled in a responsible way.

There is a considerable knowledge of the YICBMR approach as implemented by BSCFA within Tate & Lyle Sugars and this is thanks to:

  • the engagement and training provided by Fairtrade International
  • visits to communities where the YICBMR approach was implemented
  • participation at the stakeholder meetings hosted by BSCFA to present and discuss results
  • payment of the Fairtrade Premium which supports in part the YICBMR system
  • the partnership agreement with Fairtrade International and CLAC, the Fairtrade Producer Network operating in the region.

We have seen first-hand how effective Fairtrade’s intervention in our supply chain was when child labour was found and how Fairtrade worked collaboratively and holistically with the group and the governments to implement change locally and country-wide.

Julia Clark, Director, Sugar Ethics, ASR Group

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