A Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade: Human Rights Framework

Fair Trade, Empowerment and Human Rights

fairtrade“Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible” – UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Examine the Principles of Fair Trade and it quickly becomes apparent the intention of Fair Trade is to EMPOWER disadvantaged producers and their communities. The principles reflect business practices free from exploitation; are based on respect for universal human rights, women’s rights, child rights, minority and migrant rights, rights of the disabled, and labour rights; embrace gender equality; and incorporate environmentally sound practices. However, the fact remains that for many of our producers their rights are not well known; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains an abstract idea, an international convention far from their immediate reality.

When our producers are unaware of their rights, there is opportunity for exploitation. In the field of International Development, programs and projects are often designed to target root causes. One increasingly popular approach is a Rights-Based Approach (RBA) which recognizes poverty as injustice and includes marginalization, discrimination, and exploitation as central causes.

As Fair Trade supporters and advocates, it is nice to believe that we are leading the way in making ethical consumer choices a reality in the global marketplace. Admittedly, many of our producers reside in countries which are not well known for upholding those rights. However, unless we support our producers with knowledge of their rights, we fail to follow the principles of Fair Trade. Look at this from the perspective of our producers:

Fair Trade is a partnership, not a charity. As set out in our shared Principles, Fair Trade importers, wholesalers, buyers, and retailers are required to provide for the development of producer groups in order that they are empowered, self-sufficient trade partners capable of conducting international trade in ways which are beneficial to them and their community free from any form of exploitation. To integrate a Rights-Based Approach is to strengthen our trade partners not only in trade relations, but in their quality of life; to enjoy the freedoms internationally recognized as inherent to all human beings. Taking a closer look at our Shared Principles we see that our principles are based on UN Human Rights Declarations and Conventions, and the ILO Conventions. For a comprehensive analysis read Journey for Fair Trade: Human Rights Framework.

Saturday, December 10, 2011 is Human Rights Day


This year, let’s make it a point as a global Fair Trade movement, to not only join the celebration, but integrate a Rights-Based Approach into Fair Trade; Join together in an effort to raise awareness of Universal Human Rights with our trade partners and their communities!

Here is an idea for Fair Traders regardless of where you reside – empower your trade partners directly: the United Nations has translated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into 131 languages. Download and print a copy in the language of your trade partner, take an extra step to creatively decorate it, and mail it to them. What a great way to personalize your trade relationship:


The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has been translated into 58 languages and is available from UNICEF on their child-friendly page. UNICEF has made the CRC available in an easy to read English poster which is quite colorful and attractive. If you have trade partners whose first language is not English, download a copy and take the extra step to print it out in their language on a poster size paper, decorate and laminate it, and mail it to them! What a terrific way to let them know you support and care for their children:


To advocate for a Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade it is vitally important that Fair Traders know what the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is and how it works, particularly when it impacts 51% of the global population, yet women are often considered to be in the minority. To see how this convention works to empower women, read Journey for Fair Trade: Understanding CEDAW. The national UNIFEM offices have translations of CEDAW in printed locally available – they have a budget for printed materials, so don’t hesitate to make a request!

For those who have trade partners in developing nations, I encourage you to do some online research of Women’s Rights Organizations, to include Rights-Based Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) in their country and put them in touch with your trade partner. Contact the UNIFEM national office if you need a referral to a local NGO which conducts workshops in women’s rights. It is important that as Fair Traders we unite with the Rights-Based Organizations in their efforts to make change happen and put an end to gender inequality and social  http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/econvention.htm

To integrate a Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade begins by raising awareness of the rights we are all entitled to enjoy; the rights which form the very foundation of our Shared Principles. Take a stand for human rights and begin raising awareness with a celebration on Human Rights Day, December 10th, 2011. For ideas and information read Journey for Fair Trade: Fair Trade Celebrates Human Rights Day.

Mitch Teberg, MA

WFTO Associate Member

Sustainable Development / Fair Trade / Women’s Rights and Gender

Researcher / Trainer / Consultant


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