The first comprehensive and independent study looking at the effect that sustainability certification has on workers’ conditions on large farms has been conducted by non-governmental organisation Somo, the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations.
The group’s research shows that working conditions on certified farms are generally better than at non-certified farms, but are still not yet comparable to internationally agreed standards.
Working conditions in certified farms producing tea in India and bananas in Costa Rica received special criticism.
The report, entitled Goodness Guaranteed, draws from case studies in countries including Kenya and Indonesia. The research shows that agricultural workers on 70 sustainability certified farms in 13 different developing countries lack six of their key workplace rights.
Low wages are one of the main issues, along with the inability to join a trade union, a lack of protective gear to ensure worker safety, and discrimination.
According to the report, sustainability certifications with more stringent labour rights provisions, such as Fairtrade, saw fewer violations than those with weaker standards, such as Rainforest Alliance.
Sanne van der Wal, one of the researchers involved, commented: “The oversight of compliance with labour rights on farms is flawed for at least five important sustainability certifications. Also, many workers simply are not aware of the type of certification that applies to their workplace, nor what this entails for them. These are issues that sustainability certification schemes need to address as it undermines the positive impact they aim to achieve. They also should consider improving their labour right codes which sometimes are too rudimentary and inexplicit, and hence open to loose interpretation.”