Fit for purpose?

Private standards are no substitute for Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence regulation

The “Not Fit for Purpose” report by the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative (MSI) Integrity, released in 2020, concluded that MSIs should not be relied upon to protect human rights.

Fairtrade agrees with the key take-away of the report–private standards are no substitute for public regulation. HREDD needs to become mandatory for companies and it must integrate rights holder perspectives.

The report nevertheless finds that MSIs can build knowledge and trust, engage corporations, and possibly promote norms and policy reforms. MSI Integrity sees Fairtrade as one of the strongest MSIs in explicitly requiring compliance with international human rights or international labour standards (p. 102), recognizing the need for responsible purchasing practices (p. 104), advancing living wages (p. 93), and making affected rights holders aware of grievance mechanisms (p. 168–169).

One aspect where Fairtrade needs and seeks to achieve big improvements is assessing and showing evidence of our impact. The 2020 report by MSI Integrity notes that, “few MSIs are as committed as Fairtrade International to assessing and responding to research on their impacts.” Still, we also often highlight the number of farmers engaged and the premiums gained through Fairtrade, looking at scale rather than impact.

Fairtrade sees many areas to improve, but also believes that MSIs with strong rights holder involvement can play an important role in pushing for change.