The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a landmark document, enshrining inalienable human rights such as the right to life, health and a decent standard of living for the first time. At Fairtrade we echo the UN’s call to stand up for equality, justice and human dignity.
Seventy years on, there is still much work to do. More than 40 million people are trapped in modern day slavery, with one in four of these children. World hunger is now rising again, to 821 million people in 2018. That means one in nine people are going hungry.
Human rights are an integral part of Fairtrade’s mission. For 30 years we have been working with farmers and workers in developing countries to improve their livelihoods and enable them to take control of their lives. What does this mean in practice?
Here are six ways in which Fairtrade works to strengthen human rights:
1. Ensuring farmers and workers have their say
Farmers and workers aren’t just beneficiaries of Fairtrade. They are co-owners and partners in our work to make trade fair and sustainable for all.
“Fairtrade is freedom; it’s dialogue; it’s sustainability; it’s empowerment. It’s everything for us in a world that is so competitive.”
From deciding how to spend the Fairtrade Premium in their cooperative, to having their say on changes to our standards, producers are involved in decisions throughout Fairtrade. What’s more, producers have 50% of the vote at the Fairtrade General Assembly, Fairtrade’s highest decision-making body. At every level, producers have a voice and are supported to stand up for their rights.
2. Setting strong standards
Fairtrade Standards are all about protecting farmers’ and workers’ rights and providing the framework for them to build thriving farms and organisations. Strong core criteria to protect farmers, workers and their environment are combined with development requirements, which mean organisations can continuously improve and invest in their farms and communities. Fairtrade regards exploitation and abuse as totally unacceptable.
The Standards are based on the core conventions of the International Labour Organisation and are developed with input from the farmers and workers themselves.
Examples of human rights requirements in the Fairtrade Standards include:
- No child or forced labour
- No discrimination, harassment or abuse of any kind
- A ban on dangerous pesticides
- The right to freedom of association and collective bargaining
- Health and safety at the workplace
3. Pressing towards a living income and living wage
All farmers and workers deserve to earn a decent living from their work. Fairtrade’s top priority is making this a reality, but we are the first to admit we are not there yet. Research shows that many farmers and workers are doing better with Fairtrade. But the challenges are huge, and greater efforts are needed across the supply chain to allow farmers and workers to escape poverty.
We have developed a holistic strategy to work towards a living income for smallholder farmers, focusing on cocoa as an immediate priority with coffee to follow. We recently increased our Minimum Price and Premium for cocoa, and have established a Living Income Reference Price for the crop in West Africa, providing the first target price for the industry based on household needs and farm costs. At the same time we are finalizing a strategy to move towards living wages for plantation workers, particularly in bananas. We will continue working with committed partners to test these strategies and drive them forward.
4. Supporting workers to know their rights
Workers on farms and in factories at the far end of the supply chain are among the most vulnerable people in global trade. Historically they have had very few rights and no voice. That makes achieving change a slow process.
That’s why Fairtrade is building up additional programmes alongside our Standards, to support workers to improve their own livelihoods and negotiate their wages and terms of work. One recent example is of a Fairtrade banana plantation in Cameroon, where a Fairtrade buyer and allies in the labour movement came together to support the creation of a joint union platform. This has already led to better conditions and higher satisfaction for workers.
5. Supporting communities to tackle child labour
Fairtrade has chosen to engage in areas with a known risk of child and forced labour, as we believe that is where the benefits of Fairtrade are needed the most. Fairtrade’s approach combines rights-based Standards – supported by rigorous certification and auditing – with supporting producers and their communities to take ownership and tackle human rights abuses themselves. Our Youth Inclusive Community Based Monitoring and Remediation programme is all about putting the local community at the heart of tackling the root causes of child labour.
A Fairtrade sugar organisation in Belize is one of the groups actively putting it into practice. Recent grassroots research by young people involved in the programme there has given unique insights into the experience of young sugar cane cutters, as well as recommendations to address child labour.
6. Empowering women
Fairtrade supports women to challenge historic gender roles. Our Gender Strategy sets ambitious targets to increase the participation of women in decision-making and ensure the benefits of Fairtrade are shared more equally.
“The [Women’s School of Leadership] programme is so important. Women are such an important factor to the development of a society. Everything passes through women. They were not just made for farming or to have children. We made them understand that they can do anything. Like men.”
One example is the Women’s School of Leadership established by Fairtrade Africa and funded by Compass Group UK & Ireland and the Co-op. In a country where women make up some 68 percent of the labour force, training in business skills can be a powerful tool to support women to take on leadership roles in their cooperatives and communities. Women from seven different Fairtrade cocoa cooperatives (representing almost 5,000 members) took part in practical training in skills like finance, negotiation and decision-making. The school also trained men, helping them promote the value of gender equality in their communities.
Fairtrade cannot solve all human rights issues in global supply chains on its own. But with strong standards and programmes, allied with the commitment of every actor in the supply chain, we can increase transparency and help protect the most vulnerable against trade-related exploitation. Let’s work together and ensure that equality, justice and human dignity become a reality for farmers and workers around the globe.
*This article was amended on 11 December to clarify the role of ILO conventions in our Standards and the role of producers in Fairtrade decision-making.
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