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Company Response

26 Mar 2024

Fair Trade USA's response to Corporate Accountability Lab report

... We take allegations incredibly seriously and believe in the rigor of our program. We have chosen not to reply to the report publicly prior to this due to our deep concerns with the methodology employed and the broad conclusions that the authors came to regarding multiple programs, including ours and all multistakeholder initiatives ...


Our certification programs establish robust management systems that improve farmworkers’ safety, working conditions, and lives; provide safe channels for addressing concerns; and are platforms for true accountability. That infrastructure includes mechanisms like our complaint policy to hear and resolve worker grievances, trigger spot‐audits, and provide anonymity throughout to avoid any kind of retaliation. Those functions have been successfully utilized throughout our history and have led to positive outcomes and resolutions where possible, and suspension or decertification if not. This is included in trainings and education provided to workers on their rights within Fair Trade certification. Additionally, each location has a Social Engagement Team (SET), trained to help process complaints, and resolve disputes internally.

With regards to this report, one of the authors reached out to Fair Trade USA in 2022 with allegations around freedom of association and underpayment of wages at one of the sites included in the report. Fair Trade USA launched a thorough, independent investigation that was unable to substantiate the claims. This is a signal that we have an effective program, able to detect and resolve problems. Like all credible systems, Fair Trade programs create an environment of accountability. When poor or intentionally deceptive practices occur, strong systems have mechanisms that trigger corrective action. It is also worth noting that, outside of any other outreach or allegations to Fair Trade USA with regards to the claims in the report, three of the four sites mentioned as Fair Trade Certified were already decertified by the time of the report’s publication.

The authors share that 200 semi‐structured interviews were conducted over a six‐year period, which was inclusive of the height of the COVID pandemic – a time of disruption across all production and supply chains that uprooted lives around the world, and perhaps no more so than frontline agricultural workers. The authors do not claim that all, or even most of those interviews were conducted with workers from the farms mentioned, but rather, with “workers, labor contractors, community leaders, activists, and union leaders.” The value that non‐worker stakeholders represent is significant and helps construct the full context on the ground. However, by not identifying how many, or even if those workers who were included in the interviews ever worked on a Fair Trade Certified farm specifically raises significant concern. Additionally, only one farm identified in the report as Fair Trade Certified was part of the program in 2016 with the others earning certification in 2017 (2) and 2021, further decreasing the likelihood that workers interviewed were from certified farms. Similarly, three of the farms identified as Fair Trade Certified were decertified prior to the publication, one in 2019 and two in early 2023.

The four farms listed employ roughly 10,000 permanent and temporary workers at a given time, meaning that the full potential sample size over the six‐year period when interviews were conducted could have totaled well over 60,000 workers. One of those four farms operates across 35 sites. We respectfully suggest that due to the complexity of these supply chains and size of operations, what was likely well less than 200 interviews with workers is an unreliable sample size.


The Freedom of Association claims made in the report are troubling, and highlight the systemic challenges faced by workers in Mexico for generations. The reformed labor law passed by the Mexican government is a welcome step in the right direction. This reform, however, also highlights the contexts in which Fair Trade USA has operated in to ensure worker rights. Freedom of association is paramount in the face of legal restrictions on labor rights and Fair Trade USA’s standards create structures that ensure freedom of association. As laws are passed and implemented, Fair Trade USA makes sure that the third‐party auditors are provided with up‐to‐date information and guidance on how to audit new legal requirements as was done when the 2019 Mexican Labor Reform law was implemented in 2023.


Full response attached below