Fairtrade and access to remedy

The Business and Human Rights framework brings hope for the victims of human rights violations. The UNGPs – and more recently The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – offer clear pointers on victim-centered grievance mechanisms and remediation.

Fairtrade finds that improving Access to Remedy starts with rights holder empowerment. It’s crucial to raise human rights awareness among rights holders and reduce power imbalances, in order that people are increasingly able to voice their grievances.

Fairtrade also believes that grievance mechanisms need to be complemented with other approaches for identifying human rights breaches and victims. Initiatives like Fairtrade, that have a presence on the ground, often find out about human rights breaches via discussion and observation rather than through formal grievance mechanisms.

Remediation of systemic human rights violations is important but also challenging. Victims may even oppose changes if they badly need income and have few alternatives. Some systemic violations – especially the lack of living wages, living incomes and a decent standard of living – are so widespread that remediation is extremely rare.

Developing country producers typically cannot and should not be expected to shoulder the costs of remediation alone. For example, in Western African cocoa production, most small farmers live in poverty and child labour, forced labour and deforestation are prevalent. Fairtrade data suggests that for over 40 percent of producer groups, the costs of decent child labour monitoring and remediation systems surpass their Fairtrade Premium.

The UNGPs clearly call for collaboration between supply chain actors. Still, putting this into practice is challenging. As the first steps, large retailers, manufacturers and traders need to move away from merely transactional relationships with their suppliers.

Producers need partners who make medium to long-term purchasing commitments and do not “cut and run” when
– not if – a human rights grievance needs addressing.

Fairtrade work on the three building blocks of Access to Remedy