Fairtrade International response to Telemundo/The Weather Channel documentary

28 July 2016

Fairtrade welcomes efforts to highlight the challenges faced by farmers and workers, including children and young people, in global supply chains. We encourage and support responsible investigative journalism which shines a spotlight on child labour, poor living and working conditions, low wages and other forms of exploitation which could pose significant risks in coffee production in Mexico and many other parts of the world.

It was precisely to tackle these issues, and support marginalized and vulnerable communities to use trade to overcome poverty, inequality and economic hardship, that Fairtrade was established. This means we work in many regions where such risks exist, and therefore take our responsibility extremely seriously, especially on child and/or forced labour. If we encounter such problems, we are committed to investigate thoroughly, acting first and foremost to protect vulnerable children and adults, and to take any further action necessary to remediate and prevent further occurrences.

The filmmakers themselves have told us they did not visit or film at any Fairtrade certified coffee producers. To this end we would welcome more specific information from the filmmakers about allegations made and which - if any - Fairtrade certified coffee farms are involved. If Fairtrade certified coffee farms are implicated, we will  investigate and take the appropriate action. If they are not, then we request this is made clear in the story.

If anyone - including a journalist - becomes aware of incidents of child and/or forced labour in non-Fairtrade certified operations, we encourage them to report them safely to the appropriate national protection agencies for follow-up and response. In some past cases, Fairtrade International has obtained information from journalists and/or companies about child or forced labour on non-Fairtrade certified operations and we have acted on the information shared. For Fairtrade, acting to protect children and vulnerable adults from child and/or forced labour is of primary importance.

We believe the Telemundo/The Weather Channel documentary project “Harvest of Misery”1 could be misleading because Fairtrade is frequently grouped together with other certification and verification systems with little attempt to differentiate between them. In fact there are significant differences in standards, certification, auditing and the way we work with, and support, producers and workers. We cannot speak for the other organizations mentioned in the story, but Fairtrade standards are among the most rigorous and we are confident that in the vast majority of cases our certification and auditing procedures are robust. Specifically, the international FAIRTRADE Mark was used interchangeably with the Fair Trade USA mark , even though the two organizations are not connected and their approaches are different, especially with regard to certification of coffee.

When it comes to coffee, one important difference is that Fairtrade does not certify coffee plantations or estates which use hired labour; we only certify Small Producer Organizations (SPOs) - typically these are the small-scale coffee farmers’ organizations of the sort which produce around 70 percent of the world’s coffee. Our most recent Monitoring and Impact Report shows that 89 percent of all coffee farms certified by Fairtrade are 12.3 acres (5 hectares) or less, and that the average size of a Fairtrade certified coffee farm in Latin America and the Caribbean is just 7.4 acres (3 hectares) (therefore more typically a family farm than a large scale operation). This is an important point when it comes to talking about workers’ rights, pay and conditions (see below).

Nonetheless, we are well aware that small producer farms, like any other, carry significant risks of child and/or forced labour, especially among internal and external migrant populations looking for work to survive.  For example, our interviews with children, young people and adults involved in coffee production in Mexico in 2014 showed that unacceptable labour could be a possibility. That's why Fairtrade and the Fairtrade producer network CLAC (Coordinadora Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Pequeños Productores y Trabajadores de Comercio Justo/Latin American and Caribbean Network of Small Fair Trade Producers) have focused on strengthening the capacity of small coffee producer organizations to address labour issues involving children and vulnerable adults (see below).

Of course no one, not even a certification system, can 100% guarantee that a commodity is produced without child and/or forced labour.  However, Fairtrade does promise that if child and/or forced labour is identified or alleged in our system, working within our Protection Policies and Procedures for Children and Vulnerable Adults, we will investigate and follow-up on a case-by-case basis. Working with rights-based civil society organizations if appropriate, we aim to protect impacted individuals and support producer organizations to build community based, continuous monitoring and response systems. Where audits find major non-compliances with our standards, producer organizations can have their Fairtrade certification suspended and provided with corrective actions.  Should the non-compliances persist, the organization can be decertified, meaning they can no longer trade on Fairtrade terms or use the FAIRTRADE mark.

Fairtrade empowers farmers, workers and consumers to make trade fairer, but we also know there are no quick-fix solutions to tackling inequality, creating opportunity and ending exploitation. We are not naive about the challenges we face: many of the problems faced by farmers and workers are deeply ingrained after generations - sometimes centuries - of marginalization and exploitation.

Certification and auditing

“Harvest of Misery”1 claims that certified coffee farms in Chiapas are not inspected annually by third-party verifiers, that inspections are announced in advance and that the “square root” methodology means the sample size of inspected farms is inadequate.

Fairtrade certified producer and trader organizations are audited (i.e. inspected) by FLOCERT, a wholly-owned independent subsidiary of Fairtrade International, set up in 2003 to certify Fairtrade products.

FLOCERT is accredited for the ISO norm 17065, and follows the advice of ISO 17020 and 19011, the globally recognized norms for quality control of inspections bodies, in the context of defining the methodology on sampling. According to ISO, audit sampling takes place when it is not practical or cost effective to examine all available information during an audit (e.g. records are too numerous or too dispersed geographically to justify the examination of every item in the population).

Sampling is an inevitable methodology in Fairtrade SPO audits, as costs for the producers would greatly increase if all of the organizations, and every farmer in each organization, were to be visited. As an ISO accredited certification body, FLOCERT uses prescribed methodologies, which are also verified by the accreditation body (DAkkS), both in field and office visits. In this context, ISO accreditation allows for two methodologies: either judgment based sampling or statistical sampling. The FLOCERT audit methodologies are a combination of both.

Coffee SPOs are divided into three categories: 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade. For 1st Grade SPOs (whose legal members are exclusively individual small farmers) FLOCERT does not use the square root methodology. There are currently 30 Fairtrade certified coffee producers (SPOs) in the Chiapas region. Of these, 28 are 1st grade, two are 2nd grade (whose legal members are exclusively 1st grade organizations affiliates) and none are 3rd grade. It can be seen, therefore, that the overwhelming majority of audits of Fairtrade certified coffee producers in Chiapas (93 percent) do not use the square root methodology.

The umbrella producer organizations or cooperatives are indeed notified ahead of time about a scheduled audit. However it is important to note that physical farm inspections are selected randomly from the member list at the time of the visit, and are not pre-warned. The reason for advance notification of an audit is so the organization can ensure it makes available any important evidence and paperwork, and also so that key individuals are available for interview – not just management, but farmer members, committee members and employees where appropriate. Fairtrade is not a “policing” organization - the system is 50 percent owned by the producers themselves and we take the view, based on long experience, that it is better to work together to address any problems rather than waving a big stick. Some producer organizations in Mexico have been suspended for non-compliances and issued with corrective actions, with follow-up audits (including unannounced audits) to verify that problems identified are being addressed and responded to.

In addition, FLOCERT has since 2012 implemented a Risk Based Auditing methodology which includes unannounced audits, and at present approximately four percent of FLOCERT customers receive an unannounced audit.

FLOCERT’s risk-based approach for auditing is based upon its experiences from the regions and the criteria described also in the public Audit SOP, which says "FLOCERT Regional Managers either select customers for unannounced audits at random or may identify 'high-risk' operators and decide that an unannounced audit is the most effective means of managing that risk. The 'high-risk' determination could be the result of an allegation, large growth projections, product or country specific identifiers or other factors affecting risk. The audit is carried out as a 'spot-audit', focusing only on specific, mainly major compliance criteria that were selected beforehand by the analyst and clearly described in the Terms of Reference.”

There is a three-year certification cycle after the initial certification, during which FLOCERT carries out at least two more audits: one surveillance audit and one renewal audit. If the first certification cycle is concluded successfully, FLOCERT can issue a new certificate. FLOCERT includes focused audits and risk-based audits in their regular audit cycle.

Fairtrade producers do not select which certification body will perform the audits and take the certification decisions, and FLOCERT is the sole certifier for Fairtrade producer organizations.

Child labour

“Harvest of Misery”1 claims to have gathered evidence that child labour is commonplace during the coffee harvest in Chiapas and that this exposes the flaws and limitations of ethical certification.

We take any allegations or reports relating to child and/or forced labour on Fairtrade operations extremely seriously, and request that if the filmmakers have any evidence, or have even heard reports, of child labour on Fairtrade certified coffee farms in Chiapas, to share it with us so we can begin our due diligence process and start an immediate investigation to act to remove the impacted children from harm and ensure their prolonged safety.

As noted above, if the filmmakers have identified alleged cases of child and/or forced labour on non-Fairtrade certified coffee operations, we encourage them to follow up with national level protection agencies. The Mexican Law on the Protection of the Rights of Children and Adolescents recognizes the right of children and young persons to be protected against any acts or omissions affecting their physical or mental health, their normal development, or their right to education, including neglect; negligent treatment; abandonment; emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, trafficking and so forth.

Fairtrade certified producer organizations and traders are committed to preventing and effectively eliminating all forms of forced labour, including child labour and human trafficking, in accordance with the principles of the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), among others. This commitment is enshrined in the Fairtrade Standards for SPOs, Hired Labour and Contract Production, and Traders.

Since 2012, Fairtrade has actively promoted an innovative policy on child and forced labour, which aims to fight the root causes  and proactively prevent the abuse and exploitation of children and vulnerable adults.

Whilst auditing and certification are a vital tool for monitoring human rights issues such as child labour, Fairtrade recognizes they are not sufficient by themselves, which is why we adopt a child centered, rights based approach which empowers farmers, their families and communities themselves also to take responsibility for eliminating child labour. Our pioneering Youth Inclusive Community Based Monitoring and Remediation (YICBMR) system puts producers in the driver’s seat when it comes to tackling the worst forms of child labour, and has already been piloted in 14 countries including Mexico. In addition, we run training workshops on Fairtrade Standards for farmer organizations, and are rolling out additional training and support on child protection and child labour, including forced labour, especially in high risk areas, and encouraging every producer organization to have its own clear policies and processes.

For example, in 2014, Fairtrade International and CLAC held child labour prevention workshops with coffee producer organizations in Mexico with the Federación de Indígenas Ecológicas de Chiapas. CLAC has rolled out this training to dozens of SPOs (including coffee producers) in the region including Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras etc.

In addition, Fairtrade uniquely seeks to address the poverty-related root causes of problems such as child labour. Unlike some other certification systems, our standards require companies to work within our trade rules, including a minimum pricing mechanism to provide greater stability to small scale farmers trading in volatile markets; additional money (the Fairtrade Premium) which farmers and communities decide for themselves how to invest; voluntary best practices by traders to support capacity strengthening in producer organizations to address issues such as child labour; and sourcing from vulnerable producer groups.

Fairtrade also has a formal complaints and allegations procedure by which anyone can report breaches of Fairtrade Standards - and we would encourage the makers of “Harvest of Misery”1 to use this to share any evidence relating specifically to Fairtrade certified coffee producers in Chiapas so that we too can investigate further.

Nonetheless we are not complacent and we acknowledge that Fairtrade alone cannot totally eliminate child and/or forced labour. The YICMBR system and other initiatives are not designed to replace rigorous auditing in accordance with strict standards, and we will always act when we come across allegations or reports of child and/or forced labour on a Fairtrade certified farm.

It is worth noting that the Fairtrade Standards do allow for children to work on family farms under strictly-controlled conditions because we recognize - as reflected in “Harvest of Misery”1 - that for many small farmers, who often cannot afford to hire formal employees, help from family members can make the difference between survival and destitution. If the national law permits, children or adolescents may help around the house or on the family farm outside school hours and during school vacations provided that this work is appropriate to their age and level of development, that they are properly supervised and are provided with the appropriate equipment and clothing.

Working conditions and wages

“Harvest of Misery”1 claims to have found living conditions for the workers including parents and children which were “were unexpectedly grim”, with inadequate food, substandard housing and primitive sanitation on coffee farms in Chiapas. The documentary reports that adults earn as little as $4.50 per day.

Fairtrade does not certify coffee plantations or estates which rely primarily on hired labour, partly because as a seasonal crop (as opposed to tea, flower and banana plantations which we do certify), coffee plantations are often historically dependent on a migrant and/or temporary labour force, which makes for a highly challenging context in which to ensure standards are being met.

However, we share the concern about low pay and poor working conditions on coffee farms both large and small, and winning progress towards living income and living wages is a cornerstone of our global strategy. To achieve this, we call on all actors in the coffee supply chain - including certification and verification systems, coffee traders, brands and retailers - to ensure that enough value is distributed to the farm level in their supply chain to ensure family farmers and plantation workers are able to earn a decent income and improve their living conditions.

In particular, Fairtrade International’s new strategy on hired labour in other sectors (e.g. flowers, tea or bananas, where we do certify plantations) makes clear the importance we attach to workers’ rights: “The new strategy moves Fairtrade beyond a traditional corporate social responsibility model based on standard-setting and auditing, to help build conditions where workers have the tools and ability to negotiate their own work terms and conditions.” Fairtrade considers a living wage to be a human right, and trade unions and collective bargaining to be the best vehicles toward worker empowerment. To that end, we operate numerous workers’ rights programmes in various regions around the world.

1On 19 January 2017, an English-language version of the documentary has been published under the new name "The Source".

For further information please contact:

Giovanna Schmidt, Media Relations Manager, Fairtrade International
+49 228 94923236 / +49 172 5416076

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