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Fair Trade as “source of hope” for securing human rights in agriculture

On the occasion of World Fair Trade Day 2013 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, released a Question & Answer (Q & A) paper titled “The contribution of Fair Trade to securing human rights in agriculture”, in which he praises the Fair Trade model as a “source of hope” for small-scale famers and states that this trading partnership “should become the norm rather than the exception, and it should be better supported by fiscal incentives and in public purchasing policies”.

Olivier De Schutter recalls that in the agricultural sector fundamental rights at work are frequently violated. It is estimated that less than 20 per cent of the 450 million people who work, often on a seasonal basis, as farmworkers have access to basic social protection. Although the International conventions have been widely ratified, collective bargaining and social dialogue are often entirely absent: farmworkers face considerable difficulties in organizing themselves, and in addition, subcontracting and outsourcing practices are widespread. In recent years, the multiple forms of discrimination women face as farmworkers, e.g. in laws and practices regarding inheritance of land, in the mode of calculation of wages generally or in access to financial services, have become a particular concern. Practices that encourage workers, especially women, to have their children work with them, contributed to the approximately 132 million girls and boys aged 5 14 that work in agriculture, representing 70 per cent of all child labour. 

To alleviate this situation the Special Rapporteur refers his interim-report, “The right to food”, which was presented to the United Nations General Assembly in October 2011. In which the lessons that Fair Trade could deliver to contract farming schemes in general are highlighted, with a view to making global supply chains more equitable for small-scale producers. Based on a range of studies and consultations, the report identified seven principles that echo the concerns of Fair Trade schemes, and should become the norm in global supply chains:

  • For all concerned parties the arrangement must be viable from an economic point of view
  • Small-scale farmer should contribute to the wording of contract provisions
  • Contracts should be put in woman’s name if the woman is e.g. the main person working
  • Pricing mechanism should be clear and transparent
  • Quality standards must be clear and specific
  • Promotion of agroecological forms of production
  • The contracts should identify ways of resolving disputes

Finally Special Rapporteur De Schutter calls on both retailers and Governments to do more to promote Fair Trade. Governments especially should dispel the confusion among consumers surrounding the various certification schemes by information campaigns which highlight the respective merits of the different schemes, also ensuring that the definition of Fair Trade as laid down in the Charter of Fair Trade Principles is not watered down. 

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