Workers rights workshop in East Africa

31 August 2011


Union leaders working on Fairtrade flower farms in East Africa shared valuable information about how to best protect workers’ rights at a workshop held on August 9-10 in Arusha, Tanzania. Fairtrade International and the IUF (International Union of Food workers, a world-wide federation of trade unions representing workers in agriculture and plantations) jointly organized the workshop. Around 15 workers from Fairtrade flower farms participated.

During the workshop the workers gave important input on questions such as how to improve workers participation at Fairtrade plantations, how to use the existing Fairtrade system to progress towards living wage and how to involve workers in audits.

The workers themselves were informed about Fairtrade’s hired labour strategy review and how it could impact them. Fairtrade’s hired labour strategy review evaluates Fairtrade’s entire approach in this area and is exploring ways to strengthen Freedom of Association and workers’ collective organizing, more effective audit mechanisms where needed, and other measures to deepen Fairtrade’s impact for workers.

Next week the Fairtrade Advisory Committee on Worker Rights and Empowerment (WRAC) will meet in Dublin, Ireland to give their input into the developing strategy. The WRAC is a group of trade unions, labour rights NGOs, industry experts and Fairtrade members have been advising Fairtrade International on this process since January.

Workers around the world face many subtle or overt barriers to enjoying quality work conditions and to forming or joining a union. Even with Fairtrade’s rigorous Standards and certification system, we know there are ways that Fairtrade could do more to support workers to collectively defend their rights and to negotiate the terms and conditions of their work.

In the case of the cut flower industry, challenges that workers face include use of pesticides, which in some cases include highly toxic chemicals, and regular overtime during peak periods. Fairtrade strictly prohibits use of prohibited materials. As of July 1st, Fairtrade producers must comply with an even stricter list of prohibited materials. Farms have had their certificates suspended if use of these materials were found during audits. Fairtrade also requires appropriate health and safety measures.

“I was very impressed with the East African union leaders’ leadership and their commitment to continuous improvement of worker rights and trade union relations in the Fairtrade system. We are taking their input into account in this key strategic project on workers rights,“ says Wilbert Flinterman, Senior Advisor on Workers Rights and Trade Union Relations.

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