New Fairtrade Grievance Mechanism

Workers have a louder voice in the new system

Published in HRDD Newsletter/June 2021 issue

Fairtrade International and FLOCERT are developing a human rights-based Grievance Mechanism, building on FLOCERT’s current Allegations Procedure. The reform plan was approved by the Board of Fairtrade International in March.

The mechanism enables individuals and groups – for example farmers, workers, community members, trade unions and NGOs – to make allegations that a certified entity has not complied with the human rights and other requirements in Fairtrade Standards.

This reform is based on our commitment to human rights and to strengthen the voice of rightsholders, including formally and informally employed workers, in the Fairtrade system. Accordingly, the new Grievance Mechanism offers grievants opportunities to:

  • request a mediation process where a resolution is sought via dialogue;
  • propose reasonable corrective and remediation measures;
  • wider stakeholder engagement during investigations including consultation with worker organisations identified by the grievant; and
  • an appeals process that involves a full review of the case by individuals that are independent of the earlier decision.

Independent experts will also be engaged to seek advice in complex matters such as on local labour law.

Alignment with the UN Guiding Principles

The Grievance Mechanism is designed to align with the quality criteria outlined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP):

  • Legitimate: The mechanism seeks to alleviate power imbalances between companies and rights holders through a fair grievance process and accountability to the grievant when corrective measures are considered;
  • Accessible: Grievances can be submitted via several channels, including WhatsApp, in English, French and Spanish. Other proceedings, for example when the same issue is brought before a court, may be considered but do not block an allegation from being accepted. A communications plan is being developed with Producer Networks to promote awareness about the Grievance Mechanism among farmers, workers and other stakeholders;
  • Predictable: The FLOCERT Allegation Procedure has a clear process and time frames from submission to resolution and the types of potential outcomes are clear. These will be revised to align with the new concept;
  • Equitable: We seek to ensure fair access to information and an opportunity for all rights holders to engage in a grievance process on fair and respectful terms with support from FLOCERT. In this respect, the right for the grievant to have a say in the corrective measure is also relevant;
  • Transparent: We will keep all parties to a grievance informed about its progress. We publish annual reports with information about the number and type of allegations received and resolved;
  • Rights-compatible: In complex cases, FLOCERT engages independent experts to ensure that the outcomes and remedies comply with international human rights laws;
  • A source of continuous learning: After the first year of implementing the new Grievance Mechanism, the Board of Fairtrade International and the Workers’ Rights Advisory Committee will review the progress and can recommend changes to the mechanism; and
  • Based on engagement and dialogue: The mediation process, being developed with Producer Networks, will foster dialogue between the grievant and the related company. On the whole, the Grievance Mechanism has been developed in consultation with the Workers’ Rights Advisory Committee.

It is important to note that the authority to determine the outcome of an allegation will be exclusively maintained by FLOCERT as will the confidential nature of the investigation and non-disclosure of the identity of the person making the grievance (unless that individual decides to engage in mediation).

Benefits

The benefits of the new Grievance Mechanism include:

  • alignment with human rights principles,
  • promoting trust and respect through dialogue between rightsholders, companies and related stakeholders such as trade unions,
  • giving workers and other rightsholders a greater role in the certification relationship and Fairtrade,
  • strengthening the quality and legitimacy of the allegation process through the involvement of external bodies and increased training of auditors on labour rights,
  • raising Fairtrade’s legitimacy in the eyes of human rights and labour experts,
  • strengthening Fairtrade as an HREDD tool for commercial partners.

Way forward

The mediation process will be co-ordinated by Fairtrade International. This will allow FLOCERT to retain its ISO 17065 accreditation, which prevents audit companies from mediating disputes or proposing solutions to non-compliances. Further development, communication and implementation of the mediation process will involve fulsome engagement between the Producer Networks and Fairtrade International.

The mediation process will be developed and piloted in 2021 and 2022. Funds will be made available to support Producer Networks in this roll out.

A new Grievance Co-ordinator at Fairtrade International will manage the mediation system and the relationship between the mediation process and the FLOCERT allegation procedure.

Further information: Wilbert Flinterman (w.flinterman@fairtrade.net)