October 26, 2020

Fairtrade Foundation solidifies commitment to human rights and urges companies to step up due diligence action

Companies in the UK must intensify their efforts to tackle human rights violations in global supply chains, Fairtrade Foundation has said, as it pledges to advance human rights principles in business.

This call is part of a new Human Rights Commitment published by Fairtrade, which affirms the organisation’s responsibility to tackle human rights violations in supply chains and encourages businesses to step up their work on Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD).

The Fairtrade Human Rights Commitment is the result of three years of dialogue among Fairtrade’s producer networks (representing farmers and workers), national Fairtrade organisations and other stakeholders across Africa, Asia-Pacific, the Americas and Europe.

Coordinated by Fairtrade International – Fairtrade Foundation’s parent body – the commitment comes at a time when the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to amplify the vulnerability of farmers, workers and their families in the global south.

In the commitment paper, Fairtrade pledges to align its policies and processes with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), which set a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse human rights impacts linked to business activity.

At the same time, Fairtrade has outlined concrete recommendations to strengthen legal frameworks to achieve responsible business conduct and corporate responsibility in all global supply chains. These recommendations are outlined in a position paper, ‘Fairtrade’s Vision for Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence’, published today (22 September).

CEO of Fairtrade International, Darío Soto Abril, said: “Our message today is a turning point. Even Fairtrade, which manages a voluntary instrument for responsible business conduct, clearly states that voluntary measures undertaken by companies aren’t enough to tackle human rights violations, poverty and environmental harms. Public authorities and businesses must be legally obligated to take their responsibilities seriously if we are ever going to halt increasing injustice in supply chains.”

Since the UNGPs were adopted in 2011, companies have been increasingly expected to engage in HRDD – the means by which they can identify, address and account for the adverse impacts of their operations and value chains on human rights. The EU and several governments are currently preparing binding HRDD regulations – hailed by Fairtrade as “a big step forward”. However, other countries including the UK are still to act.

Fairtrade is now calling for proportionate, binding HRDD legislation and treaties at national, regional and global level, so that no company can evade its responsibility without legal consequences when human rights violations and/or environmental harm occur.

Chair of Fairtrade International, Mary Kinyua, said: “For so many decades we, other human rights organisations, and trade unions have urged companies to pay attention to farmers’ and workers’ rights. Finally, governments are increasingly demanding this, too.’ She added: ‘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.”

Human rights violations in global supply chains are pervasive. For instance, 152m children globally – 75% of those in the agricultural sector – do work that damages their health or schooling.

Head of Policy for Fairtrade Foundation, Tim Aldred, said: “At present, due diligence policies fall far short of what is needed to address human rights violations in global supply chains, including environmental harm. It is the most vulnerable people – farmers and workers living in poverty – who bear the brunt of this inaction. This is a critical issue that must not be neglected during ongoing Brexit deal negotiations.”

He continued: “As an accountability partner for business, Fairtrade Foundation commits to encouraging companies to fulfil their responsibility to respect human rights. We will continue to work with our business partners and networks, by supporting them to increase understanding of human rights and by providing the relevant tools – such as Fairtrade certification – to help them mitigate human rights violations in supply chains.”

Fairtrade wants to see HRDD legislation that, among other things, covers the whole supply chain, recognises living wages and living incomes as indivisible human rights, and puts farmers and workers at the heart of HRDD policies. The organisation has committed to pilot new ways to facilitate collaboration between producers and other supply chain actors.

According to the Human Rights Commitment, HRDD has enabled Fairtrade to develop its policies, standards and processes so that they become increasingly effective at addressing salient issues and advancing the rights of farmers, workers, its employees and other rights-holders. Fairtrade is committed to developing its HRDD process further.

The Fairtrade Human Rights Commitment paper is available at: https://files.fairtrade.net/publications/Fairtrade-Human-Rights-Commitment-Paper.pdf

Fairtrade’s Vision for Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence is available at: https://files.fairtrade.net/Fairtrade-Human-Rights-Due-Diligence-Vision-September20201.pdf