Beneath the ‘Fair Trade’ Label, Union-Busting Lurks
Since the 1990s, an unprecedented–but sometimes uneasy–alliance of activists and industry has tried to braid together business and humanitarianism under the label of “fair trade,” a system of standards aimed at injecting ethical checks into the sprawling global trade structure. Today, fair-trade branded coffees, skincare products and designer chocolates are hot commodities. But beneath the label lie ideological tensions over what “fair” means.
According to the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), the fair-trade certification system is riddled with loopholes that enable corporations to suppress labor rights and union activism. The ILRF’s new report focuses on the Seattle-based Theo Chocolate and its fair trade certification body, Switzerland-based Institute for Market Ecology (IMO). According to workers interviewed for the report, a campaign to form a union affiliated with the Teamsters in early 2010 at Theo's Seattle factory was met with discrimination, intimidation and anti-union propaganda.