Last week I wrote about a report that was recently released by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) that questions the "Fair for Life" certification awarded by the Switzerland-based Institute for Marketecology (IMO) to Seattle's Theo Chocolate. In the 24-page report titled "Aiding & Abetting: How Unaccountable Fair Trade Certifiers Are Destroying Workers' Rights", the ILRF details a 2010 chain of events in which it claims Seattle's Theo Chocolate violated U.S. and international labor standards during a union organizing campaign by workers at the company - allegations Theo strongly denies.
According to the ILRF report, the "union-busting" tactics employed by Theo during this time constituted a violation of U.S. and international labor standards. Despite this, "On May 28, 2010, two months after Theo management initiated its union avoidance offensive, the IMO certified Theo Chocolate as meeting one of its fair trade standards called 'Fair for Life' despite hearing from workers about Theo's anti-union tactics," according to the ILRF report.
Furthermore, the ILRF report contends that when pressured by Theo workers to audit and reevaluate the "Fair for Life" classification it had awarded the chocolate maker, the IMO did so, but upheld its original decision - further claiming that the findings of the audit were confidential. The ILRF report alleges that the IMO "loosened its own labor standards in order to justify its decision."
In writing my original post, I reached out to the IMO to get the agency's take on the allegations contained in the ILRF report. As it turns out, according to IMO "Fair for Life" Program Manager Florentine Meinshausen, the inquiry came "during the busiest four days of the organic year when the entire Fair for Life team and all senior management was at Biofach, the world's largest organic fair in Germany."
However, the IMO has now responded to the ILRF report.
"We verify fair working conditions in all companies handling Fair for Life fair-trade products worldwide as we think labor rights are paramount to fair trade everywhere," says Meinshausen. "We encourage companies to publicly commit to fair working conditions and give auditors unrestricted access to all their sites, documentation and staff to verify good working conditions on an annual basis. ... This working relationship has to be based on a clear agreement that details of audits findings are kept confidential by the certification body unless public statements are agreed by the certified companies."
"We strongly believe that the ILRF's campaign against Fair for Life and Theo damages workers' interests in the US and is based on a biased investigation, representing the views of a few individuals and not all workers involved," reads a letter sent to Seattle Weekly and also available on the IMO website. "[The campaign is] damaging the only fair trade scheme in the US who considers fair working conditions in fair trade companies worldwide paramount to fair trade. This type of campaign encourages businesses to not make any public commitment statement or external review on fair labor practices."
In the letter, the IMO responds specifically to issues raised by the ILRF report. You can read the full letter here.