Human rights

Fairtrade works to empower farmers and workers, foster responsible business conduct and spur policy reforms that protect human rights in global supply chains.

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

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created over 70 years ago, but the rights of millions of farmers and workers remain unfulfilled. They are among the ‘working poor’; they work long and hard hours but live in extreme or moderate poverty. In low- and middle-income countries, this is still the reality for more than every fourth person.

Business can play a positive part, bringing work and needed commodities and solutions, but it can also cause and contribute to many adverse impacts on human rights. Common human rights violations in agricultural supply chains include:

  • Low incomes and wages that keep farmers’ and workers’ living standards low and result in poor health, hunger and lack of education;

  • Child labour and forced labour;

  • Discrimination against women, who are overrepresented in the lowest-paying tasks, underrepresented in decision making, and often face violence and harassment;

  • Health and safety hazards, such as exposure to agrochemicals;

  • Restrictions on local people’s self-determination and standard of living, due to overuse or misuse of land and water resources.

How Fairtrade mitigates human rights harms

We work in supply chains and regions where human rights are at great risk because that is where we are most needed. To mitigate human rights harms, we work with farmers and workers, companies and policy makers.

  • Farmers and workers are at the core of our work on human rights – and we do much more than is commonly known to advance their empowerment. In addition to our certification, designed to support farmer and worker organizations and collective action, we engage in constant dialogue, offer training, coordinate development projects and commission research to put more control in the hands of small-scale farmers and workers. This is made possible by the strong, permanent presence of our Producer Networks in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East, and the Asia Pacific region.

  • We also work with companies to raise awareness and understanding of human rights and human rights-based approaches. For retailers and manufacturers, Fairtrade certification and collaborative projects can be tools to identify and mitigate human rights issues in many supply chains. However, companies remain fully responsible for undertaking their own human rights due diligence (HRDD).

  • We urge policy makers to make HRDD mandatory. Effective voluntary initiatives are invaluable – but are not sufficient, alone, to end human rights violations in global supply chains.

We are committed to aligning Fairtrade’s policies and processes with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP, 2011).

Fairtrade’s Human Rights Commitment

Fairtrade’s Human Rights Commitment was approved by the Board of Fairtrade International on 23 June 2020. The Commitment is a result of three years of dialogue, led by Fairtrade’s HRDD Working Group that includes members from all Fairtrade functions and six continents. Its key aspects were discussed by the Board of Fairtrade International in March 2019 and CEOs of all Southern and Northern Fairtrade offices in October 2019. The Commitment will be reviewed and revised as our HRDD work progresses.

External guidance was provided by several experts, notably from the Danish Institute on Human Rights, and international guidelines such as the UNGP, OECD Due Diligence Guidance, OECD-FAO Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains and Global Compact’s Guide on How to develop a Human Rights Policy.

The Commitment will be communicated via newsletters, trainings, events and guidance materials to Fairtrade staff, farmers, workers and companies that Fairtrade works with. These activities are tailored for each audience, drawing on inputs from these audiences, by Fairtrade’s Producer Networks, commercial teams and other relevant staff.

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