Ethix Merch: You argue that the fair trade movement should adopt unionization as a goal. Why are the Teamsters, who mostly represent workers in North America, so concerned about the international fair trade movement?
Timothy Beaty: When a fair trade certified chocolate company in Seattle called Theo used intimidation, harassment and lies against its employees who wanted to form a union and join the Teamsters it seemed to contradict the fair trade ethos. The fair trade certifier – IMO – said they certified that Theo was in compliance with international labor standards, but they are not. IMO did two audits and told us there were some findings but they are secret and Theo has not moved to correct their anti-union behavior....
The Teamsters are very active with unions worldwide in solidarity efforts, particularly regarding multinational employers where our members work including transportation, logistics and food processing. I think that the fair trade movement and the labor movement share important core values, so we are hoping to build understanding and solidarity towards our common social justice goals. Many European unions are pioneers in the fair trade movement in their countries so we’ve been learning from their experience as well.
Ethix Merch: In order for a large factory or plantation to receive fair trade certification, is your expectation that the workers there must be represented by a union? Or does the workplace simply need to be open to and tolerant of unionizing?
Timothy Beaty: Yes, a union freely chosen by the workers and the collective bargaining agreement they negotiate is the best way to empower workers. It’s also the best way to monitor compliance with labor rights standards...
Ethix Merch: What do think is the largest hurdle to your model actually being put into place?
Timothy Beaty: There are a lot of products being labeled fair trade these days. Cut-flowers, bananas, tea, sugar are examples of products you see with fair trade labels on them that are probably sourced from large plantations with for-hire workers. Chocolate, soap and coffee are examples of products that require processing normally taking place in a factory in the consumer country. In each plantation or factory there will be obstacles to unionized workforces specific to that workplace. If we can get the fair trade movement to make a serious commitment that equates empowerment of workers in the production and value chain with freedom of association and collective bargaining then I think the biggest hurdle is the plantation and factory owners and managers. Their tendency is to game the system against independent worker representation and a binding collective bargaining agreement.The whole interview is worth reading. You can read it here.