How Does Fairtrade mitigate human rights violations in global supply chains?

Human rights begin in small places, said Eleanor Roosevelt. At home, at school, at the factory and farm.

As the first Chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Roosevelt was involved in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She emphasized how local such concepts as equal opportunity and dignity are.

“Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere,” she said.

When the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) were published in 2011, they articulated companies’ roles and responsibilities – even in those small places.

They are the same places Fairtrade has been focused on since the 1980s, when coffee farmers in Mexico and a Dutch NGO launched Fairtrade, for farmers to gain negotiating power in the international marketplace.

HRDD site 1

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

Since then, Fairtrade has grown into a global network made up of several organisations with staff in more than 100 countries. It brings together millions of smallholder farmers, workers, traders, manufacturers, retailers and consumers in an effort to improve living and working conditions for those at the beginning of our supply chains.

Yet the struggle to claim one’s rights continues. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic that, according to World Bank estimates, has already thrust at least 119 million more people into extreme poverty – raising global poverty for the first time in 20 years.

In September 2020, Fairtrade published both a Human Rights Commitment, and a call for binding Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence (HREDD) regulations that bring the voices, knowledge and experiences of farmers and workers to the discussion in a meaningful way.

Fairtrade and human rights and environmental due diligence

Legislation is needed – voluntary iniatives like certifications are not sufficient to solve human rights violations in global supply chains. But ambitious certifications like Fairtrade can offer invaluable support for HREDD work by companies, workers and farmers.

1. Fairtrade is strengthening its own HREDD process, building on its Human Rights Commitment of June 2020.

2. Fairtrade calls for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence.

3. Fairtrade supports farmers’, workers’ and partners’ HREDD work.

Read more on Fairtrade’s HREDD tools

“We see development as a process of social empowerment and redistribution of power – not as a technical exercise,” says Mary Kinyua, Board Chair of Fairtrade Africa, adding, “Mandatory Due Diligence can be a real turning point in addressing human rights and environmental violations in global supply chains.”

Fairtrade commits to aligning its own policies and processes with the UNGPs. The network is currently preparing for a new type of Fairtrade-wide and UNGP-aligned Human Rights Impact Assessment, among other activities.

Fairtrade’s Human Rights Commitment

We commit to aligning Fairtrade’s policies and processes with the UNGPs. Our Human Rights Commitment was approved by the Board of Fairtrade International in June, 2020, laying out Fairtrade’s HREDD process.

Our salient human rights issues:

Fairtrade mainly works with agricultural supply chains and the textile industry. Our leverage is greatest in the supply chains of coffee, cocoa, bananas and flowers. The salient human rights issues, which our efforts to mitigate, prevent, cease and remediate chiefly focus on, include:

• living wages and living incomes

• child labour, forced labour and gender-based violence

• discrimination based on gender, ethnic origin or other status

• freedom of association and unionization

• conditions of work

• environmental rights

Fairtrade’s key recommendations for HREDD laws and partner support

To have a positive impact on farmers, workers and artisans in the Global South, HREDD legislation should ensure real shifts in business practices. Fairtrade calls for HREDD legislation that:

• Covers whole supply chains.

• Requires companies to address the most serious human rights and environmental issues rather than abandon or avoid high risk sourcing areas.

• Requires companies to engage in dialogue with workers, farmers and other rights holders.

• Mandates companies to assess and change trading and purchasing practices that contribute to harms in supply chains.

• Recognizes living wages and living incomes as indispensable steps in human rights and environmental protection.

Read more about Fairtrade’s key recommendations, including support for recommendations by wider CSO coalitions, and vision for HREDD regulation.

We also support our partners on each step of the way:

Learn more