Fairtrade Foundation calls on UK companies to back greater due diligence of global supply chains

The Fairtrade Foundation has called on British companies to increase their efforts to tackle human rights violations within global supply chains, including the cocoa sector, reports Neill Barston

This initiative is part of a new Human Rights Commitment published by Fairtrade, which encourages businesses to step up their work on Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) that remain a major area of concern for a number of industries around the world.

As Confectionery Production has previously reported, sector studies have revealed that more than two million children remain in child labour within Ghana and Ivory Coast for the cocoa sector (a typical farm in Ivory coast pictured) – which is steadily being addressed through government and manufacturers’ community initiatives.

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 pledge comes at a time when the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic continue to amplify the vulnerability of farmers, workers and their families in the global south.

In the commitment paper, Fairtrade undertakes 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’.

CEO of Fairtrade International Darío Soto Abril acknowledged that there was a significant amount of work to be done in order to build on initial progress being made regard human rights issues

He 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.

Furthermore, the charitable organisation believes that guidance on HRDD should be explicit on the right to decent livelihoods, and on the need for a living income to be understood as fundamental human right in that context. However, the average income for cocoa farmers (74p per day) is less than half of what is required to achieve a living income, according to a 2019 Fairtrade report, Craving a Change in Chocolate.

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, 152 million 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 added that due diligence policies presently fell “far short” and stated that it was those who were most vulnerable – farmers living and working in poverty, who suffered the most as a direct result of inaction. He added that it is an issue that should not be an issue that is neglected during the final phase of Brexit talks between the UK and the EU.

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.”


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