Fairtrade coffee break with Subindu

"My dream could be that all human rights are respected, there is fair and decent wage for producers and workers and that businesses are not only for profit making but care about people in their supply chains. " says Subindu Garkhel from Fairtrade Foundation.

Published in HRDD Newsletter/November 2020 issue

Originally from India, Subindu Garkhel lives in the UK and works as Cotton & Textiles Lead at Fairtrade Foundation since 2014. Before joining Fairtrade, she worked in different capacities in the supply chains in India, Bangladesh and the UK.

Subindu is currently working with her HRDD colleagues to frame Fairtrade’s current offering to license holders in HRDD language.

Enjoy a cup of Fairtrade coffee and spend a nice moment with Subindu. 

What is your typical day like and what are the most common issues in the fashion sector?

I am responsible for cotton and textiles. I work with current and potential commercial partners as well as producers on the ground. This means supporting both our licensees and producers. I am also involved with fundraising and projects for cotton producers with the support of our colleagues in the Producer Networks.

In the fashion sector, one of the main challenges is that the supply chains are very long and complex. Responsibility is approached in two ways: Sustainable sourcing, which focuses on the environment and climate change, and ethical sourcing, which takes the social side more into account. Unfortunately, in both these discussions the cotton farmer is often times left out, and discussion focuses on factories.

On the social side, we now often talk about the UNGPs and due diligence. When it comes to the factory level, the topical issues include e.g. gender equality, working conditions and living wage.

How is HRDD linked to your work?

The fashion sector has recently been very engaged with workers’ rights and human rights issues and some of these conversations are very sophisticated.

In my day to day work, I seek to keep abreast of what is happening in the fashion sector, understand the challenges, and think about how Fairtrade can support the producers and the businesses. It is vital that in all the discussions we manage to bring the farmer to the forefront, in addition to the factory workers.

When did you first hear about HRDD and what have you learned since then? 

Probably around 2014 in external events related to ethical fashion business. Since then it has involved understanding this complex body of work around UNGPs and various guidelines and requirements.

One of the first things I did when I joined the subgroup was to do a deep dive into all the definitions. This helped in building my understanding on the terminology and its nuances. For example: What does mitigation mean, grievance mechanism, human rights risk assessment in supply chains etc.? What does it signify in practice? HRDD is a very in-depth topic and there is still so much to learn.

What are you currently working on in the HRDD Working Group?

I am a member of the ‘Offer to Business subgroup’. In the O2B subgroup we are currently reviewing what Fairtrade can offer to businesses. The first step is to articulate what Fairtrade means for businesses, if they source our products.

After that, I will start working on our new, potential offers, going beyond certification (e.g. programmes and expertise). In addition, I contribute when requested: comment papers put forward by other subgroups, especially the ‘HRDD for our People’. I see strong inter-linkages between our internal work and our future offers to businesses.

Subindu presenting at the HRDD webinar on Offer to Business

Why do you find HRDD work important for Fairtrade? 

Human rights work has always been at the center of what we do at Fairtrade. But the world and the way the discussions are framed have changed since Fairtrade was established.

We need to make sure that we are fit for purpose. Otherwise there is a risk that farmers and workers lose out on sales and benefits. Our commercial partners are looking for this support and might move to our competitors if we are not ready.

We are already doing a lot, but we need to speak the language businesses understand and the civil society expects. There are areas where we need to improve and do more work, e.g. on grievance mechanism and remediation.  We shall then be able to support and advance human rights better for producers and workers. We need to work together with businesses to achieve this and our role is to make sure this is done right, with producers at the center of our approach.

What are your fears and dreams on how the HRDD could change business and the world? 

Though a lot has progressed in the last years my fear is that it is too slow, and we won’t actually see enough change happening on the ground.

My dream could be that all human rights are respected, there is fair and decent wage for producers and workers and that businesses are not only for profit making but care about people in their supply chains. But that is rather a utopian dream.

What do you think that companies should do better so that small farmers and workers would be better off? What would you ask from companies? 

  • First step: recognize that small farmers and workers are also part of your supply chains.
  • Second step: investment is required for change to happen.
  • Third step: Find partners, with whom you can collaborate, who have knowledge and expertise, such as Fairtrade. Fairtrade colleagues on the ground bring value to the process because the local contextual input is a must to bring about meaningful change.

Author: Meri Hyrske-Fischer, Human Rights Coordinator, HRDD Center of Excellence