Revised Fairtrade Standard for Hired Labour bolsters support for workers

Grounded firmly in the daily reality of Fairtrade workers across the globe, the new Standard offers greater support for freedom of association, important steps toward living wages, greater autonomy in decision-making and more.

Gladys Asafo and Mercy Dzade sort bananas at the Volta River Estates in Ghana. Photo by Nathalie Bertrams

Workers harvest tea at the Burnside Tea Estate in India. Photo by Santiago Engelhardt

14 January 2014

In 2012 Fairtrade International announced an ambitious new workers’ rights strategy recognising the need to go beyond Fairtrade Premium projects and basic labour rights protection. Today, we announce one of the most important steps in realizing this vision – a new Fairtrade Standard for Hired Labour.

To get to this point, Fairtrade International Standards Unit travelled the globe to meet with more than 400 workers in 14 countries. We received feedback from workers on the proposed changes during 18 workshops and on-site group interviews.

We also interviewed close to 170 management representatives from Fairtrade certified plantations and factories, and received over 120 written responses from certified producer groups, traders, retailers, unions, NGOs, and Fairtrade member organizations.

The result is a new Hired Labour Standard based on the principles of the workers’ rights strategy, but grounded firmly in the daily reality of Fairtrade workers across three continents. Some of the changes had nearly unanimous support; others were hotly debated even among workers themselves.

The Fairtrade Hired Labour Standard applies to organizations producing flowers and plants, fresh fruit and vegetables, tea, herbs and herbal teas, and sports balls.

Freedom of Association

Freedom of association – the right for workers to organize freely and take collective action in their interests – is a fundamental right enshrined in global human rights law. Fairtrade International recognizes independent trade unions and the collective bargaining process as the best way for workers to achieve this.

Yet while freedom of association has been a core requirement in the Fairtrade Standards, many workers face obstacles to joining a union.

The new Hired Labour Standard has stronger requirements for employers to actively show their support for workers to join a union and to support them to do so if they wish.

Specific changes include:

  • The company must sign a ‘Freedom of Association protocol’ confirming that they allow workers to associate and submit this protocol to FLO-CERT, the Fairtrade certifying body, before they can be Fairtrade certified.
  • The company must actively communicate to workers that they have the right to unionize, including posting signs on notice boards.
  • Where workers don’t belong to a trade union, the company must allow trade union representatives to inform workers before certification.
  • There must be some form of democratically elected independent workers’ organisation in place, but workers decide what this is and take the initiative themselves.
  • The company must proactively engage in a process to enter into collective agreement with elected worker representatives where there is no CBA in place (except where workers have clearly decided to not join a trade union or collectively bargain).

Fairtrade International will also introduce local points of contact that can support workers to know and understand their rights and link with trade unions and workers’ support organizations if they want.

Living wage

The previous Fairtrade Standard for Hired Labour required companies to make progress towards a living wage, but without timelines or benchmarks there was no way of enforcing this.

Fairtrade International is currently leading a project on living wage. The first step is to develop a new methodology for setting living wage levels for farm workers, and then travel country by country to calculate living wages in each region where there are Fairtrade certified plantations. The first benchmarks have already been set.

With these new living wage benchmarks, the revised Hired Labour Standard introduces a clearer requirement for wages to progress towards living wage level. Companies must regularly increase workers’ real wages and these increases are negotiated with elected workers’ representatives based on information about Living Wage levels that Fairtrade will make available.

(Read more on the Fairtrade perspective on a living wage here)

Fairtrade Premium use and decision-making

Workers are now able to decide by themselves how they invest the Fairtrade Premium, and they can spend it more flexibly.

Before, the decision was made jointly by workers and management. Now, management participates in the Fairtrade Premium Committee as advisors (formerly called the “joint body”) but they do not have voting rights. (Management can block a Premium project that would be illegal or have a negative impact on the company.)

The elected workers on the Fairtrade Premium Committee will now lead a general assembly of workers at least once a year to report on and approve the Fairtrade Premium plan. Workers can also decide to distribute up to 20 percent of the Fairtrade Premium as a cash or in-kind bonus distributed equally among workers if they choose.

Migrant labour

The Standard includes new criteria to make sure migrant workers benefit from Fairtrade. If migrant workers make up the majority of hired labour, they can choose to distribute up to 50 percent of the Fairtrade Premium in cash. This is particularly important for these workers, many of whom support their families in their regions of origin.

The new requirements are more explicit that migrant workers must be consulted on Fairtrade Premium spending, and that all workers including temporary or migrant workers have the right to be elected as a worker representative or to the Fairtrade Premium Committee.

A milestone on the journey

The new Fairtrade Standard for Hired Labour includes many other changes to strengthen the position of workers. Companies must now undertake specific activities to ensure equal treatment for minority groups. Companies must have grievance procedures in place – including for sexual harassment – before becoming certified (instead of after 1-3 years). And they must share audit results with workers through worker representatives.

But a new Standard is only one important step on a much longer journey to strengthen the position of workers on Fairtrade farms.

“Our work is far from over. This new Standard provides the support framework, and now we have to work hard to make sure workers have the capacity and the freedom to negotiate fairer workplaces,” says Wilbert Flinterman, Senior Advisor on Workers’ Rights and Trade Union Relations at Fairtrade International.

“We will continue building partnerships with global union federations and local trade unions to engage workers; at the same we will continue pushing for fairer prices, and a better distribution of value along the supply chain.”

In November 2013, the Board of Fairtrade International agreed that the next step in Fairtrade’s overall Workers’ Rights strategy is to review and improve the Fairtrade model to better reach workers in small producer organizations. Fairtrade research has shown that under the current model, the benefits of Fairtrade are not uniformly or sufficiently extending to this group. Initial proposals for a plan of work were presented to the Fairtrade International Board in November 2013 and the work launches in early 2014.

Read the new Hired Labour Standard here.

For more information on Fairtrade’s work in workers’ rights, please see our programme page here.

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