Human rights

Human rights underpin everything that we do, starting with the right to a decent standard of living and the right to work, equal pay for equal work, and fair working conditions.

27131 Four Women Cotton Farmers Kyrgyzstan 870
Cotton farmers at the Fairtrade certified Bio Farmer Agricultural Commodity and Service Cooperative, Kyrgyzstan.
Image © Didier Gentilhomme

Human rights are universal and inalienable; indivisible; interdependent and interrelated. They are universal because everyone is born with and possesses the same rights, regardless of where they live, their gender or race, or their religious, cultural or ethnic background.

We believe farmers and workers have a right to receive a fair share of the trade they make possible through their hard work. For farmers that is a fair income on the back of a fair price. For workers that is a fair wage through collective bargaining, again on the back of a fair price.

The stark reality is that, even more than 70 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, these rights are still not effectively available to many people across the globe. This is particularly true of the right to a decent standard of living. Of people who have work in low- and middle-income countries, more than a quarter are living in extreme or moderate poverty (the ‘working poor’). According to Oxfam, 82 percent of all growth in global wealth in 2017 went to the top 1%, while the bottom half of humanity saw no increase at all.

Trade impacts human rights in many ways, both locally and in global supply chains. Business brings people work, needed goods and services and, in some cases, solutions to environmental and social problems. Yet business can also contribute negatively, sometimes leading to gross human rights violations.

In agricultural production, common examples of human rights violations include:

  • Low incomes (violating the right to an adequate standard of living and eroding other rights, for example, the right to health, right to food, etc.);

  • Barriers to unionization and collective bargaining, including trade union discrimination (resulting in inadequate terms and conditions of employment);

  • Changes in land and water use when production areas expand or change (impacting local people’s right to an adequate standard of living and right to self-determination);

  • Overrepresentation of women in worst-paid tasks (violating the right to non-discrimination);

  • Health and safety hazards such as exposure to agrochemicals (impacting the right to health and decent work conditions).

How Fairtrade promotes human rights

We work in products and regions that are known to have these kinds of human rights challenges precisely because this is where Fairtrade is most needed.

Through standards, programmes, campaigns, and minimum pricing and premiums, Fairtrade puts more control in the hands of small-scale farmers and workers.

  • Fairtrade Standards always meet or exceed requirements in internationally accepted conventions such as the International Labour Organization’s standards. For example, Fairtrade Standards prohibit child labour, forced labour or discrimination based on gender, ethnic origin or other status. They also include requirements on wages, occupational health and safety, freedom of association, collective bargaining, land use, water use, maternity rights and hazardous waste.

  • Our certifiers independently verify that producers are following the standards. Although auditing isn’t a 100 percent guarantee, we follow the strictest standards for certification schemes, so businesses and consumers can trust that Fairtrade certified producers are checked by an independent third party.

  • Targeted programmes, funded by the Fairtrade Premium or by partners, address important human rights issues while increasing the well-being of farmers, workers and communities. These include workers’ rights, gender equality, protection of children and vulnerable adults, climate resilience, and food security.

  • Through campaigns with partners, we raise awareness about human rights abuses in supply chains and Fairtrade’s contribution to addressing them.

To address the right to a decent standard of living more specifically, we are working hard to improve farmer and worker incomes. The Fairtrade Minimum Price and Premium contribute to this, and our standards require a minimum floor wage for agricultural workers that applies when a meaningful national minimum wage doesn’t exist. We also have strategies to make progress toward a living income for farmers and a living wage for workers.

As businesses increasingly seek to ensure that their own supply chains are free from human rights violations – known as ‘human rights due diligence’ or HRDD – Fairtrade is strengthening our data systems and services to support traceability throughout supply chains. Read more about sourcing and traceability.

As with other sustainability efforts, the costs associated with ensuring human rights impacts should become part of the normal costs of doing business. Fairtrade is part of the solution by empowering farmers and workers, providing transparency, and supporting producers’ rights.