Demand Honest Fair Trade Labels!
The Swiss-based Institute for Marketecology (IMO), which certifies companies using the “Fair for Life” label, doesn’t always play fair. And when Fair Trade certifiers don’t play fair, workers’ rights are compromised, and consumers are betrayed.
According to a report released this week by the Washington, DC-based International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), the IMO bestowed its “Fair for Life” certification on Seattle-based Theo Chocolate, despite being informed by Theo workers that the company had hired an anti-union consultant and was violating the international labor standards promoted by Fair For Life during a union organizing campaign.
Please sign the letter below. Tell IMO and Theo Chocolate to protect workers’ rights.
Although many codes of conduct guarantee the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, in practice workers in fair trade supply chains often face barriers to exercising their rights. To address these barriers the report recommends fair trade certifiers make their auditing results transparent and establish an “International Fair Trade Board of Appeal” to assess and remedy instances where fair trade organizations mishandle cases involving allegations of workers’ rights violations.
Here’s what happened at Theo Chocolate. When Theo workers decided to join the Teamsters, management responded with hostility, intimidation and retaliation. Company executives threatened to close the company if workers formed a union. They harassed union supporters, drove several workers to leave the company, and fired at least one union supporter. Theo workers were able to convince IMO to conduct an audit post-certification, but IMO upheld Theo’s fair trade certification and told the workers that the results of the audit were confidential. IMO soon after issued new labor standards, which actually recommend employers hire consultants to talk to workers about the pros and cons of organizing – effectively justifying Theo’s actions.
IMO claims to be transparent. Yet the institute refused to release the results of its investigation. All workers heard was that IMO upheld the certification and then, nearly two years later, that the case had been closed. The lack of recourse for workers, and the lack of accountability among certifications like Fair for Life, is unacceptable. That’s why the ILRF is proposing a new approach that would increase the transparency of certifiers and give consumers additional confidence in fair trade products.