Forced labour

Slavery was supposedly abolished years ago. Yet today millions of people worldwide are exploited to do work against their will. Fairtrade works to address this unacceptable practice.

Flickr CC Ivan Radic Lock On A Gate 870
Modern day slavery includes forced labour which is any work that is performed involuntarily and under the threat of punishment.
Image: Creative Commons, Ivan Radic,

Modern day slavery includes forced labour which is any work that is performed involuntarily and under the threat of punishment. This includes slavery or slave-like practices, debt bondage, as well as human trafficking.

An estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage. Women and girls are more at risk than men or boys. Migrant and vulnerable groups are often also targeted. The vast majority are exploited by individuals or businesses, many of them in agriculture or construction work.

Poverty is one of the main causes of forced labour as well as a lack of labour in the agriculture sectors, decent employment opportunities and discrimination. It is often well concealed, and in some countries ingrained after years of exploitation.

How Fairtrade addresses forced labour

Fairtrade views forced labour, and any form of exploitation and abuse, as totally unacceptable. We have chosen to engage in areas with a known risk of forced labour because we believe that is where Fairtrade is needed the most.

Fairtrade is committed to fighting the root causes of labour abuses and preventing exploitation of vulnerable people. The Fairtrade Standards have minimum entry requirements based on the ILO conventions on forced labour as well as the UN protocol to prevent trafficking. However, if forced labour is endemic within a sector or region producer organizations are encouraged to develop a written policy and a monitoring system to prevent it. As well, Fairtrade has added a minimum standard requirement involving No gender based violence and other forms of violence (e.g., bullying, harassment).

We have a Protection Policy and Procedures for Children and Vulnerable Adults which calls for response and action to ensure protection of children and adults in forced labour situations. If forced labour is found or suspected in Fairtrade supply chains, we act immediately to address these concerns and follow up with the appropriate authorities.

Standards alone are not enough to address the often illicit and hidden practice of forced labour. Fairtrade is also taking action in the following areas:

  • Building our knowledge of trafficking patterns in areas of known risk and supporting producers to put preventative measures in place.

  • Training farmers, workers and management on human rights topics.

  • Supporting Fairtrade producer communities to establish a youth-inclusive, community-based monitoring and remediation system on child and forced labour.

  • Working with governments, NGOs and human rights organizations to get feedback on our approach and increase our impact in the promotion and protection of human rights.

  • Connecting companies with producers, to invest directly in tackling forced labour, in the communities from which they purchase Fairtrade commodities. The voluntary best practice section of Fairtrade’s Trader Standard also encourages this.

Modern day slavery remains a significant human rights violation, even today. Poverty and discrimination are the key root causes of this exploitation. By choosing Fairtrade, you are supporting farmers to earn better incomes, and to tackle human rights abuses themselves.

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