Report Looking good on paper

Source: SOMO  
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For this report Looking good om paper, the findings in the study Goodness guaranteed (2015) have been reassessed in the light of empirical/farm-level research that has emerged since the earlier study was published, including field studies conducted by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and research partners in Peru and Colombia in 2015. The report aims to inform the debate about the merits and shortcomings of sustainability certification and to invite sustainability certifications and their stakeholders once again to step up efforts to address the risks of human rights abuses in food supply chains. (October 2018)

SOMO’s study Goodness guaranteed concluded that there was little evidence thatvconditions had improved for workers on farms that have adopted sustainability certification initiatives like Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade or UTZ Certified. Moreover it showed a considerable number of reports that working conditions on certified farms were not on a par with the internationally agreed labour standards they aimed to uphold.

Pattern of labour right violations

When looking at farm-level information of agricultural labour conditions there still is more evidence of problematic working conditions on certified farms and plantations than there is of positive workplace impacts of sustainability certification initiatives, as was the case in 2015. Indeed the findings in this report show a pattern of recurring labour right violations across the most important sustainability certification initiatives, tropical commodities and the countries exporting them. This in turn provides further support for one of the main conclusions from SOMO’s previous research – that labour rights violations on certified farms are systemic rather than incidental. The report also shows that there is more evidence that sustainability certification initiatives improve conditions for farm workers but that it remains very thin. Moreover, the comparative studies reviewed show working conditions on certified farms are not necessarily better across the board but are mostly confined to higher wages and a better health and safety situation. These conclusions do not automatically mean that ambitious sustainability certification schemes could not be a significant instrument in improving working conditions.

Negative effects

When producers receive a good price, receive their payment on time, have clear trading terms, and have stable commercial relations it is also likely to be easier to assure good working conditions. Generally, downward price pressures, short lead times, cancellations of orders and receiving prices below the cost of production all affect producer resilience, which in turn may affect working conditions negatively.

Additional complementary efforts

From the opposite perspective, it should also be emphasised that food (retail) companies (buyers) cannot rely on sustainability certification as their main instrument for improving working conditions in their supply chains. The adequate human rights due diligence that is expected of them requires considerable additional complementary efforts.