For Fair Trade Enterprises, Human Rights is our soul

When Fair Trade began as a movement all those decades ago, our dream was about making global trade truly just. This meant an unwavering focus on the people with least power in global supply chains: those making the products that we all enjoy. Decades on, our dream remains just as clear, and we march arm-in-arm with the global human rights movement to make this a reality for all workers, farmers and artisans. 

By Roopa Mehta, President of WFTO (for Human Rights Day 10 December 2019)

As the business world began to accept that they too had a duty to respect Human Rights, we saw an increase in commitments, policies and reports. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights was adopted at the UN and companies of all shapes and sizes began to grapple with what this means for them. For most, it was a new risk to manage. For a select few, the penny dropped that this is a fundamental reframing of the role of business in global trade.

Fair Trade Enterprises always have Human Rights at their core. The models embody a respect for Human Rights. Consider producer-owned garment enterprises like Manos del Uruguay, enterprises operating in slums like Baladarshan or those in refugee camps like Women Craft. These are business models built to work with people others won’t and go places others don’t. This requires a deep understanding of how businesses impact human rights, and an even deeper commitment to building an entire business around serving economically-marginalised people. These enterprises live-and-breath human rights, because this is the cause for which they exist. And when such enterprises elected me as the president of their global community earlier this year, I knew we needed to deepen our embrace with the broader Human Rights movement.

Human Rights are not an option to be picked up only where it makes business sense and ignored when things get hard. For Fair Trade Enterprises, respecting rights does not depend on a market reward, or await pressure from consumers. We commit to human rights through thick-and-thin, when it’s easy or hard, whether we are rewarded or not. This remains the difference between Fair Trade Enterprises and corporations aspiring to improve their human rights impacts. For us, human rights, dignity and justice are at the very heart of our enterprises. And we celebrate Human Rights Day with this ingrained in our hearts. 

Photo credits: WomenCraft, Diamanta and GEPA The Fair Trade Company