Trade Unions and Fairtrade International in Common Engagement for Workers’ Rights

By Fairtrade International


Fairtrade and Trade Unions: Two Movements, One Purpose?’ was a first-of-its-kind conference, co-hosted by The Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) and Fairtrade in Stockholm on 27 and 28 January. Trade unions, Fairtrade International staff, producers and workers and others from across the world discussed scope for collaboration to organize workers to push for living wages, greater representation and other benefits within the agriculture sector in impoverished countries.

“LO and Fairtrade are two different organizations and we have different tools – but we have a common goal in reaching a fair and sustainable trade, and we have the same wish for workers’ rights to be taken care of in countries with widespread poverty,” says Magdalena Streijffert, Secretary General of Fairtrade Sweden.

Workers already active in their workplace for their union shared compelling stories about how Fairtrade had impacted the livelihoods of themselves and their colleagues. The views of trade union leaders from Ghana, India and Peru together with those of prominent unionists Ron Oswald, International Union of Food (IUF) and Gilbert Bermudez, Political Committee of the Coordinating Body of Latin American Banana and Agro-industrial Workers Unions (COLSIBA) also helped all to understand how Fairtrade International and the trade union movement could further develop their relationship.

One of the main questions was the urgent need for a living wage. A living wage is a basic human right, but the reality in many countries does not add up.

“Fairtrade has a number of instruments to stimulate wage growth; standard requirement for social dialogue, strengthening capacity for workers to bargain through trainings, dialogue in the value chain (to enhance for a more fair distribution of value) and the advocacy tool. So we have increased our focus and resources committed towards reaching living wages make sense,” says Wilbert Flinterman, Fairtrade International’s Senior Advisor, Workers Rights and Trade Unions Relations. “Living wages is not a Fairtrade project, but a global project with many different stakeholders where Fairtrade can make a contribution.”

Fairtrade  Trade Unions 02 - L-R Magdalena Streijffert Wanja Lundby-Wedin Tobias Baudin


“From the perspective of LO, the question about living wage is driven by international trade cooperation. For this work it is critical that the workers have the right to organize themselves. It is through trade unions workers can negotiate on wages and other work conditions,” says Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson, Chairman of LO.

Read more on the relationship between the LO and Fairtrade International here.

Watch the opening plenary session from the conference.

Fairtrade International is now supporting companies as they work toward paying living wages on Fairtrade certified plantations by setting wage levels. By the end of 2015, there will be levels set for each country and region where there is a Fairtrade producer organization. When it comes to strengthening the rights for hired labour organizations it is of prime importance to seek cooperation with trade unions, since that makes collective bargaining possible.