14 Sep 2020

Fairtrade Commits to Business and Human Rights Principles

Today we publish our Human Rights Commitment, clarifying our understanding of our responsibilities – and encouraging businesses to step up work on Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD).

Today, Fairtrade International publishes its Human Rights Commitment, clarifying our understanding of Fairtrade’s human rights responsibilities – and encouraging businesses to also step up their work on Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD). The Commitment is the result of three years of dialogue among Fairtrade actors in Africa, Asia-Pacific, the Americas and Europe.

“We want to recognize our responsibilities, although Human Rights Policy Commitments are still rare among NGOs and multi-stakeholder initiatives,” says Mary Kinyua, Chair of Fairtrade International.

Fairtrade works in locations and supply chains that have many systemic human rights challenges: widespread poverty, deep imbalances of power, and discriminatory social norms. Fairtrade exists to empower farmers and workers and advance their rights – using ongoing support and training for farmers and workers, certification, partnerships, advocacy work, research and awareness raising. Yet, despite our efforts, human rights violations have also sometimes been found in Fairtrade supply chains.

“All our work seeks to mitigate, prevent and advance the remediation of human rights violations. Where Fairtrade certified actors breach human rights in Fairtrade Standards, we seek to protect the impacted persons and facilitate effective corrective measures,” says Tytti Nahi, Lead on Business and Human Rights at Fairtrade’s HRDD Centre of Excellence.

“We commit to aligning our policies and processes with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP). For example, we seek to undertake a novel, Fairtrade-wide and UNGP-aligned Human Rights Impact Assessment in 2021,” Nahi continues.

Calling for binding regulation

Fairtrade is a human rights-based movement and certification scheme. It is rooted in the initiative of Mexican indigenous communities and coffee farmers in 1988 to receive fairer prices for their product. Today, half the decision-making power in Fairtrade is held by networks of African, Asian and Latin American farmers.

“We see development as a process of social empowerment and redistribution of power – not as a technical exercise. That’s why we support farmers and workers to get organized, take collective action and seek a stronger say in their supply chains and societies,” explains Mary Kinyua.

Fairtrade sees the binding due diligence regulations that the EU and several governments are preparing as a big step forward. “Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence can be a real turning point in addressing human rights violations in global supply chains. We work to support this,” says Kinyua. “For so many decades, we, other human rights organizations, and trade unions have urged companies to pay attention to farmers’ and workers’ rights. Finally, governments are increasingly demanding this, too”.

HRDD is a practice of identifying, addressing and accounting for the adverse impacts that the operations and value chains of an organization may have on human rights. Companies have been increasingly expected to engage in HRDD since consensus was reached on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) in 2011.

“Current policies and initiatives are woefully inadequate to protect human rights in global supply chains. Due diligence on human rights and the environment must become mandatory for companies”, says Nahi. “Ambitious, multi-stakeholder initiatives can then support companies in the implementation as well as farmers and workers in claiming their rights. We work to connect farmers and workers with companies and support both to mitigate salient human rights harms, including environmental harms, in the supply chains we work with.”

Advocating for meaningful HRDD

Fairtrade commits to bringing the voices, knowledge and experiences of farmers and workers to commercial and political HRDD discussions and to advocating for the creation of meaningful, bottom-up HRDD practices and policies.

“Many farmer groups fear that northern companies will not recognize and act on their contribution to human and environmental rights violations, but cross the HRDD expectations off by evading lowest-income areas and just including tighter requirements into their codes of conduct,” says Konstantina Geroulakou, Social Compliance Coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Fair Trade Small Producers and Workers (CLAC). “That would cut many vulnerable farmers and workers out of supply chains through no fault of their own.”

“We must ensure that HRDD changes power relations and enable farmers and workers to stand up for their rights”, emphasizes Marike de Peña, Chair of CAN, a cluster of Fairtrade’s three producer networks. “HRDD must entail dialogue between farmers, workers and companies in the South and North, supply chain investments to address the root causes of human rights challenges and a fairer division of value in supply chains.”

It starts with commitment.