Fairtrade: Scaling up Workers Rights

Many actions on the ground, more needs to be done

04 June 2010

Fairtrade recognizes that more needs to be done to support workers in the global South, this includes also greater attention to workers rights and worker empowerment in the Fairtrade system.

“Fairtrade has made progress but we need to do even more to ensure that all workers enjoy sustainable livelihoods and can fulfill their potential and enjoy their basic rights”, said Rob Cameron, Chief Executive of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International.

Workers on plantations and factories are among the most vulnerable within the global trade system.  Alongside its standards for small-scale farmers, Fairtrade allows companies using hired labour to sell certain products with the Fairtrade Mark – so long as workers are organized and can negotiate their work conditions and they benefit from Fairtrade. The Fairtade standards protect workers’ basic rights according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions. This means no bonded or illegal child labour is allowed, health and safety standards, freedom of association and collective bargaining, and no discrimination.

The Fairtrade Premium delivers extra funds to invest in social and economic development projects which benefit workers and their communities. The Joint Body which includes a majority of worker representatives decides on how to invest the Fairtrade Premium, works to create good working relationships between management and workers, and helps workers gain skills in leadership, communication and project management.

Workers in the Fairtrade system have already benefited from millions of Euros in Premium investments into education, health care, career development and community projects. Their plantations receive regular annual audits to check workers’ rights are being respected. But Fairtrade workers can still face barriers to forming or joining a union and enjoying quality work conditions. This is why FLO is beginning a major project to improve rights for all Fairtrade workers. 

Over the course of 2010, we are striving to strengthen our partnerships with trade unions and labour rights organizations and seek external expertise to improve conditions for workers in Fairtrade:

  • FLO is engaged and seeking for further engagement through active dialogue with trade unions and labour rights organizations to ensure maximum impact of Fairtrade towards workers.
  • FLO CEO Rob Cameron is personally engaged with unions and labour rights organization and has appointed the Chief Operating Officer as key contact point for trade union relations. FLO is also building capacity in its Producer Services and Relations team in workers rights issues and has appointed a contact person for Latin America.  
  • FLO is publishing this summer a brochure on Workers Benefits and Rights in Fairtrade. This brochure will be available in several languages.
  • FLO will set up an Advisory Committee on Workers' Rights with stakeholders, including trade unions, labour rights organizations, external experts and other key stakeholders, to make recommendations at the highest level on the range of issues concerning worker empowerment and workers rights.  
  • Focusing this year on Latin America, FLO and FLO-CERT will meet with COLSIBA member unions in a series of meetings in each country or sub-region to look at potential collaboration.
  • FLO-CERT is exploring running a pilot for pre-certification orientation meetings between unions and workers in plantations applying for Fairtrade. If this pilot in Latin America is successful, this will be rolled out universally in 2011
  • Fairtrade is renewing its Hired Labour strategy and this work will inform the Hired Labour Standard revision in 2011/2012. 

  • FLO and FLO-CERT respect workers rights and takes seriously all breeched towards Fairtrade Standards. FLO and FLO-CERT is following up on all Complaints and Allegations related to workers rights issues, including potential freedom of association violations. Allegations can be submitted via the FLO-CERT website

Sports balls: more sales needed

Besides working with hired labour in agricultural plantations, Fairtrade is working with hired labour in sports ball factories. Workers manufacturing sports balls face particular challenges because of difficult work conditions across the industry.  Sports ball have been certified by Fairtrade for several years but unfortunately sales have not picked up very fast and benefits for workers through the Fairtrade Premium are less than they would be if sales were higher.

“No-one could say, hand-on-heart, they are happy with the lives of the workers making sports balls in Sialkot,” said Rob Cameron.

“We are not fully satisfied with where we’re at with sports balls. More needs to be done to boost the sales and we also need to make sure enough support is available for workers and certified factories. To ensure compliance and investigate any non-conformity with our standards, Fairtrade certification company FLO-CERT conducts regular audits and it also runs unannounced audits. We will also be reviewing the sports balls standards at the end of this year.”

“For a product meant to bring a lot of joy, we want to make sure it is not being made with a lot of pain,” says Rob Cameron, the CEO of FLO.


If you have any questions or would like to support us in this work, please contact
Tuulia Syvänen, Chief Operating Officer at FLO: t.syvaenen@fairtrade.net

For media inquiries, please contact Reykia Fick: r.fick@fairtrade.net

Link to Fairtrade Standard for Hired Labour Situations

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