Certification 'making no difference' to supply chain labour abuses

5 June 2018

Certification schemes are failing to tackle labour abuses in cocoa and tea supply chains, a report has said.

Systemic problems with the way certification schemes have been established and are monitored mean they have had little or no impact on labour standards within supply chains feeding UK markets, it said.

The report called for a public enquiry into the effectiveness of certification schemes with regard to labour abuses.

Speaking to SM, Genevieve LeBaron, professor of politics at the University of Sheffield and author of the report, said: “It’s not clear that they helped at all with forced labour, and they may give a quite misleading picture of what’s happening in supply chains to businesses and to consumers.

“We found absolutely no difference on most indicators between certified and non-certified tea plantations – both had very, very serious forms of labour exploitation.”

Eliminate supply chain slavery logoShe added that in the cocoa industry there was “such a lack of traceability and such a lack of clarity on the ground” in terms of how certification systems worked that it was not possible to carry out the research they had wanted.

“There was a lot of confusion at the base of the chain about how these programmes were supposed to work and what the practices attached to them were supposed to be,” she said.

The report is part of the Global Business of Forced Labour project, and is a result of in-depth interviews with more than 120 workers and 100 business and government actors and a surveys of more than 1,000 workers in the cocoa and tea supply chain.

It aggregated data from plantations certified by Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Ethical Trade Partnership and Trustea, and looked only at the impact on labour rights.

LeBaron said the certification schemes were aware of some of their shortcomings, but that it was “not clear exactly what they’re planning to do about it”.

“It’s not an issue that can be addressed by just de-certifying or investigating a few sites. It’s really an issue that relates to the broader structure of how these schemes are set up and implemented,” she said.

LeBaron said businesses also needed to address conflicts between ethical policies and sourcing practices. “Sometimes companies undermine their own efforts by on the one hand they have ambitions and really interesting anti-slavery programmes, and on the other hand purchasing for the lowest price and a very slim margin which then makes it very hard for producers to obey the rules,” said LeBaron.

Businesses need to start thinking how they can directly address issues including ensuring living wages are paid through the supply chain, she said. “There are a few, not many, but there are a few initiatives within cocoa and within tea where companies are starting to challenge those root causes, and by and large we found that to be a much more promising route.

“Where there is awareness of the need to address working conditions and workers’ rights more broadly as a prerequisite and a prevention of forced labour, that’s really promising,” she said.

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