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An external review of Fairtrade’s certification standard for Hired Labour Organisations

GoodCorporation has supported Fairtrade International in updating its certification standard for hired labour organisations.

Fairtrade is an international organisation committed to promoting and certifying trade that respects both human rights and the environment. In so doing it strives to alter the way that international trade operates, for the greater good. Nearly two million producers and workers, belonging to more than 1,800 producer organisations, work with Fairtrade. 

To become Fairtrade certified, the producer or the producer organisation must meet comprehensive requirements set out in Fairtrade’s Standards. These standards include specifications for small producer organisations, plantations and traders, as well as specific standards for certain products. The Hired Labour Organisation (HLO) Standard applies to organisations that employ paid labour to supply Fairtrade certified products. It is divided into several sections, including social development, working conditions, environmental management and business aspects.

All Fairtrade Standards are subject to a defined and regular review process and the revisions are then subject to public consultation. In advance of the usual detailed research process involving internal stakeholders, Fairtrade’s Standards Department and Human Rights Due Diligence centre of excellence wanted to canvass experts in particular topic areas in order to identify early on key areas of focus for the revision process. GoodCorporation was engaged to conduct this research.

Scope of the GoodCorporation analysis

 In order to carry out the external analysis of the HLO Standard, GoodCorporation:

  • Researched the challenges facing Fairtrade in the agri-food sector with focus on human rights topics, and compared Fairtrade’s approach to that of other certifications and labels
  • Worked with Fairtrade to identify experts for twenty key human rights topic areas including indigenous peoples, freedom of association, forced labour, child labour and child rights, gender, water and biodiversity, climate resilience and responsible trading.
  • Agreed a communication approach for the experts
  • Agreed an interview structure and template questions
  • Identified from the existing Standard requirements those that were relevant to each human rights topic area
  • Conducted our own review of the Standard requirements
  • Contacted and arranged interviews with more than twenty-five individuals or organisations 
  • Conducted interviews with each of these individuals on those topic areas in relation to Fairtrade, the existing requirements of the HLO Standard, the ways in which the existing criteria could be strengthened, suggestions for improvement and emerging best practice, with focus on human rights topics.
  • Analysed the feedback, presented findings to internal stakeholders and drafted a gap analysis report and recommendations, both broad-based and specific, that will ultimately inform Fairtrade’s revision of the Standard

During the interviews, we exchanged views with other specialists on issues such as forced labour, children's rights, gender, freedom of association and collective bargaining, health and safety, biodiversity management, etc.

Commenting on the review, Kate Birkinshaw, senior consultant at GoodCorporation, said: “Organisations such as Fairtrade have a delicate balance to strike between advancing best practice and setting standards that are achievable, so encouraging potential participants to join. Consulting with a wide range of experts to supplement the considerable expertise within Fairtrade proved to be a particularly valuable exercise. Fairtrade is to be commended for taking this approach to strengthen its requirements. These constructive exchanges are essential to identifying the best way to move international practice towards a more ethical and equitable system.”

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