Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade: Understanding CEDAW

All Fair Trade Organizations, supporters, consumers, advocates and activists support the Principle of Gender Equality. Unfortunately, I must admit that most of them are not familiar with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). To advocate for a Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade it is vitally important that Fair Traders know what this convention is and how it works, particularly when it impacts 51% of the global population, yet women are often considered to be in the minority. For this reason, I am committing this post to understanding CEDAW.

Why was it necessary to adopt a UN Declaration on women's rights when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and two additional conventions securing the rights the civil, political, economics, social and cultural rights already existed since 1966?

The reasons are clear once you take a look at what is missing. Firstly, there was an inability to address abuses against women, particularly when women are deprived of their rights. Not only that, there was a glaring failure to understand the difference between sex and sex-based differences contributing to inequality. Additionally, there was a distinct absence of reproductive rights and freedom for women in the conventions, thereby necessitating a separate convention to address these rights. Equally important was the need to make states accountable for positive action ensuring women's rights. Lastly, there was a need to recognize that individuals and not just state parties contribute to the gender disparities:
  • Non-recognition of women’s human rights by men and women alike
  • Non-recognition of abuses against women
  • Non-recognition of sex, sex-based differences and gender as constituting risk and basis for vulnerability to violation 

Much to my chagrin, the United States stands united with Iran as the only two nations not to ratify CEDAW. It would be great if the US were to join the rest of the civilized world in recognizing this convention.

A Look Inside CEDAW

The Guiding Principles of CEDAW are:
  • Substantive Equality
  • Non-Discrimination
  • State Obligations 
Let's begin with the principle of Non-Discrimination. CEDAW is the only UN convention to clearly define discrimination against women in the first Article, so let's break it down for simplicity:
The term “discrimination against women” shall mean
  • any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the
  • effect or purpose of
  • impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women,
  • irrespective of their marital status on a basis of equality of men and women,
  • of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
Discrimination defined in CEDAW is clear, and easy to understand. Furthermore, the convention recognizes Discrimination as:

  • Direct or Indirect (Intended or Unintended) – Indirect includes a neutral law which has the effect of discriminating 
  • In law (de jure) or in practice (de facto) 
  • Present or Past/Structural, which is to say "historical discrimination" 
  • In all fields (civil, politcal, social, cultural, economic)
  • Inter-sectional / Multiple Discrimination
By clarifying inter-sectional, CEDAW recognizes that groups of women suffer multiple discrimination based on additional grounds such as:

  • Race or Ethnicity 
  • Religion 
  • Disability 
  • Age 
  • Class 
  • Sexuality

Approaches to Equality
The first principle is a progressive approach to Equality. However, to get a clear understanding of what the term Substantive Equality encompasses, it will be helpful to review traditional approaches to women's equality. Two commonly found approaches are the Formal or Sameness Approach and the Protectionist Approach.

A Formal Approach to Equality 
This approach regards women and men as the same, and as such it treats them as the same. On the surface this may seem fair, but the effect can be detrimental. Firstly, it does not take into account the difference between biological and socially constructed differences. To understand how gender is a social construct, read the March, 2011 post on International Women's Day: What is Gender

Secondly, the Formal Approach uses a male standard while disregarding the special needs of women. Choosing this gender-blind approach we are ignoring biological and socio-cultural differences that need to be addressed.

Thirdly, it assumes that women will have access equal to opportunities, but according to the same rules as men. This does not take into account historical inequality or socio-cultural practices. For example, if women have been inhibited from attending schools, participating in social events, utilizing the court systems, or participating in local or national politics for the past several decades, to suddenly say women have equal access to all these functions without providing a framework to raise awareness, educate, provide access, and facilitate the use of these systems will lead to a continued absence of women in these spheres.

Lastly, this approach puts a burden on women to achieve male standards. When these standards cannot be reached, the blame is inevitably placed on women and is used as justification for continued inequality. 

The Protectionist Approach to Equality
A Protectionist Approach, rooted in patriarchy, recognizes the difference between men and women, but is framed in such a way that it considers "women's weakness" as a rational for different treatment. Firstly, women lose out on opportunities afforded to men due to exclusion. Secondly, it curtails women's rights and precludes their freedom of choice instead of empowering women. Lastly, it reinforces existing male and female stereotypes, and fails to lead to social change. The effect is a failure to promote the equality of women, and instead forces women into second-class citizenship. 
Substantive Equality
Substantive Equality, often referred to as the Corrective Approach, recognizes differences while affirming equality between men and women. To begin it encompasses both de jure (by law) and de facto (by practice) equality. Under this convention, the state has an obligation to correct the environment that disadvantages women. This is done by requiring all state initiatives to lead to:
  • Equality of opportunities
  • Equality of access
  • Equality of results or benefits

Now armed with a basic knowledge of the common approaches to equality, let's try examining a case study. In 2009, after completing a Master's Degree in Sustainable Development I had done an internship with the International Women's Rights Action Watch - Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia ( As an intern I was involved in CEDAW training workshops. The case study below is from IWRAW-AP, and will test your new knowledge! Remember, states have obligations under CEDAW to correct an environment, and in the court of law a court can hold a state accountable to the international treaties it signs...

As an exercise intended to provide an opportunity to utilize lessons learned, it is interesting to note how often people revert to their old perceptions. 

Before going into the answers ask yourself a few questions:
  • What approach did the prison authorities take? (Formal, Protectionist or Corrective)
  • In the environment as it exists, whose safety is at risk? 
    • Only women wardens? 
    • Both women and men wardens? 
    • All prison wardens and all prisoners?  
  • In supporting the existing policy, did the judge change the environment? 
  • What changes could the court rule to make it a safe environment for all?

Substantive Equality places the onus of responsibility on the state to change an environment, regardless of whether it is a work environment or in the public streets, the state must facilitate the changes needed to ensure equality between men and women. 

State Obligations
These are legally binding obligations and an existing internal law is not an excuse for non-compliance. Nor are internal divisions of power a viable defense for not drafting and implementing laws which promote gender equality. Succinctly stated, once the treaty is ratified, a State is offering itself to scrutiny on the basis of standards set forth in the Convention. 

Policy of Eliminating Discrimination
Arguably, the state can set a social environment which promotes gender equality, or through inaction create an atmosphere of disregard for women's rights  Above we covered Article 1 of the convention in defining discrimination. Article 2 details the obligation of the state in setting an atmosphere conducive to social change:

Article 2: Pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of elimination discrimination against women and to this end undertake to:

  • Embody the principle of equality in constitution and laws 
  • Ensure practical realization of the principle of equality 
  • Prohibit discrimination against women 
  • Legal protection of rights of women/against discrimination 
  • Refrain from discrimination (public actors) 
  • Eliminate discrimination by any person, organization or enterprise 
  • Modify or abolish laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination and to modify social and cultural patterns of conduct (2f and 5a) 
  • Repeal discriminatory penal provisions

CEDAW holds private actors accountable through the State. As a result, the State must:
  1. Prevent and deter private acts of discrimination;
  2. investigate and negate their consequences;
  3. provide for remedies, redress, compensation or sanctions for the performance of such acts.
This includes violations by private actors of a pervasive or persistent character. 

CEDAW Overview
Articles 1 - 5 create the general SUBSTANTIVE framework of the constitution
  • Art. 1: Definition of Discrimination 
  • Art. 2: Measures to be Taken to Eliminate Discrimination 
  • Art. 3: Guarantees full development and advancement of women 
  • Art. 4: Special Measures 
  • Art. 5: Modifying Social and Cultural Patterns of Conduct

Articles 6 - 16 are specific substantive areas

  • Art. 6: Trafficking and Prostitution


  • Art 7: Political and Public Life 
  • Art. 8: Participation and the International Level 
  • Art. 9: Nationality


  • Art. 10: Education 
  • Art. 11: Employment 
  • Art. 12: Healthcare 
  • Art. 13: Economic and Social Benefits 
  • Art. 14: Rural Women

Part IV

  • Art 15: Equality Before the Law 
  • Art.16: Marriage and Family Life
Part V
  • Articles 17 - 23 Establishment and Functioning of the CEDAW Committee

Part VI
  • Articles 23 - 30 Other details relating to the administration, interpretation and implementation of the Convention

To read CEDAW in English, click here
To read CEDAW in Spanish, click here
To read CEDAW in French, click here
To read CEDAW in Arabic, click here
To read CEDAW in Chinese, click here
To read CEDAW in Russian, click here

Working in an array of South and SE Asian nations, I have always been able to request translations in printed form from the national UNIFEM offices - they have a budget for printed materials, so don't hesitate to make a request! For those who have trade partners in developing nations, I encourage you to do some online research of Women's Rights Organizations,  to include Rights-Based Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) in their country and put them in touch with your trade partner. It is important that as Fair Traders we unite with the Rights-Based Organizations in their efforts to make change happen and put an end to gender inequality and social injustice. 

I encourage you to contract with these organizations to provide training in Women's Rights and related issues to your producers, after all it is the responsibility of Fair Trade importers, wholesalers, buyers, and retailers to provide for the development of producer groups in order that they are empowered, self-sufficient trade partners capable of conducting international trade in ways which are beneficial to them and their community, respectful of their rights and free from any form of exploitation. Integrating a Rights-Based Approach is essential for the sustainability of Fair Trade and I know from experience that it is possible, because I have designed and conducted training programs that do exactly this! 

Join Chou and I in integrating a Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade!

Mitch Teberg, MA 
International Consultant
Sustainable Development / Fair Trade/ Women's Rights and Gender
Researcher / Trainer / Consultant   

Feel free to add your comments, thoughts or ideas below or catch me on facebook. For those who prefer reading black on white, here is the downloadable version of this post on pdf:

A Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade - Understanding CEDAW

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade: Human Rights Framework

Before we can talk about integrating a Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade, we need to be familiar with Human Rights. To begin:

"Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible" 
- UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Here is my challenge to you: Can you list your basic human rights? We assume we know  our rights, but how many can you list in the next ten minutes? Honestly, one reason that rights are violated every day is because too few have actually taken a moment to read this landmark document. As Dr. Mike Thair commented on the last post, "if you stick you head up and shout too loudly against a lot of these entrenched practices, you will soon be dealt with and knocked back into line... NGOs and the well meaning importers may have a lot of warm fuzzies running training programs, but does anything actually change for producers/artisans?"

So my challenge is simple: List your as many of your rights as you can, then grade yourself. To help, my partner Chou has used her creative talents to provide a copy of the UDHR here and I encourage you to post it in your workplace, in the community center, or in a public space! For those of you who are trading with producers whose first language is not English, the United Nations has translated this document into 131 languages:  It would be great if you could provide your trade partners with a copy!

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Note: The posters in this document can be found on:

For many Fair Traders, whether they are a producer, an advocate, a member of an organization supporting Fair Trade producers, or a sales person in a small Fair Trade retail shop, being familiar with these internationally recognized rights provides you with the very foundation of Fair Trade. Personally, I would like to see the UN Human Rights conventions fully integrated into the Fair Trade Principles. At this time, only one UN Human Rights Convention is mentioned: the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In fact, it is mentioned in the first sentence of Principle 5: Ensuring No Child Labour or Forced Labour

"The organization adheres to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and national / local law on the employment of children."

Again, how many Fair Traders have actually read the CRC? More importantly, how many of your children have read this UN Declaration? Teaching children about their rights is important if we want children to grow up to be respectful of the rights of others. To facilitate, here is a downloadable poster of the convention in easy to understand English. Try this exercise with a child or a group of children and make it fun: List as many rights for children as you can and then compare your list to the convention! 
Convention on the Rights of the Child Easy Language Poster

The point of these exercises is to prove that rights are not some abstract idea in a distant UN document far from reality. Quite the contrary! These documents are tangible; these conventions form the foundation of the rights we enjoy on a day-to-day basis! The CRC has been translated into 58 languages and are available from UNICEF at their child-friendly page:, so if you have trade partners whose first language is not English, download a copy and take the extra step to print it out on a poster size paper, laminate it, and mail it to them! What a terrific way to let them know you support and care for their children! 

What about Cultural Rights and Fair Trade? 
The Global Fair Trade movement respects and celebrates cultural diversity! As a matter of fact, it should be noted in the latest revision of the Fair Trade Principles (for a pdf copy go to: "Our Values, Our Shared Principles") the WFTO added to Principle 3: Trading Practices

"Fair Trade recognizes, promotes and protects the cultural identity and traditional skills of small producers as reflected in their craft designs, food products and other related services."

Not surprisingly, the foundation of this statement can be found in another UN Convention protecting social and cultural rights. In addition to the UDHR, the United Nations has established nine core international human rights treaties, eight of which are directly related to Fair Trade: 


What about Labour Rights? 
When it comes to labour rights, there is the International Labour Organization (ILO) which is "the only tripartite U.N. agency with government, employer, and worker representatives. This tripartite structure makes the ILO a unique forum in which the governments and the social partners of the economy of its 183 Member States can freely and openly debate and elaborate labour standards and policies." (

Created on the heels of World War I, it was founded on the belief that "universal and lasting peace can be accomplished only if it is based on social justice... The driving forces for ILO's creation arose from security, humanitarian, political and economic considerations."  

The ILO has passed multiple Conventions and Recommendations which establish the international labour standards relevant to Fair Trade today. Conventions, are legally binding international treaties that may be ratified by member states. Recommendations serve as non-binding guidelines. In many cases, a convention lays down the basic principles to be implemented by ratifying countries, while a related recommendation supplements the convention by providing more detailed guidelines on how it could be applied. 

As it stands, one of the ten Fair Trade Principles mentions the ILO, Principle 8: Ensuring Good Working Conditions:

"The organization provides a safe and healthy working environment for employees and / or  members. It complies, at a minimum, with national and local laws and ILO conventions on health and safety."

However, ILO conventions can be applied to many of the Fair Trade Principles. By overlapping the UN Declarations with the ILO Conventions and Recommendations we have established the framework for a Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade. 

It is time for the Global Fair Trade Movement to thoroughly integrate internationally established Human and Labour Rights into our shared principles; 

It is time to Integrate a Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade!!!

Sadly, the most glaring absence of reference to a UN Human Rights document is in Principle 6: Commitment to Non-Discrimination, Gender Equity, and Freedom of Association. Nowhere in this principle is there a reference to the most obvious Human Rights document, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 1979. Not only that, CEDAW is the only UN Convention to define Discrimination:

"‘Discrimination against women’ shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” – United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Article 1

There is so much to say about this UN Convention and how the system works, I am saving it for the next blog post! My point here is that by integrating human rights into our shared principles, we will strengthen our ability to tackle poverty through trade. As I mentioned before, a Rights-Based Approach recognizes poverty as injustice and includes marginalization, discrimination, and exploitation as the central causes of poverty. 

This brings us back to Dr. Mike Thair's point - that the powers that be, whether they are political, social, or corporate oppressors, will beat you down and put you in line if you don't comply with the status quo. If a picture speaks a thousand words, here is my articulated response: 

Mahatma Gandhi, 1869 - 1948
Dorothy Day, 1897 - 1980
Martin Luther King, Jr, 1929 - 1968
Dalai Lama, 1935 - present
All are Rights Activists of one form or another, and all have greatly impacted our lives today through their commitment to a cause they believe in! Even more so, they each made great impacts on history while adhering to the principle on Non-Violence.

My point here is that six of the ten principles are directly related to human and labour rights. In order for Fair Trade to be sustainable into the future, do as Mother Jones succinctly stated: "Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflicts." To this end, I have created a framework to reference for Fair Trade activists, advocates, producers, researchers and supporters to integrate a Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade:
It is not necessary to memorize all these conventions, that is not the point; just become familiar with your rights in order that you can make change happen! Make it a fun activity, you may surprise yourself with what you already know or don't know about your rights in the UDHR and the CRC.

The first step in utilizing a Rights-Based Approach is knowing your rights.

Mitch Teberg, MA 
International Consultant
Sustainable Development / Fair Trade
Researcher / Trainer / Consultant   

For those who prefer reading black on white, here is the downloadable version of this post on pdf: 
A Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade - Human Rights Framework

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade: The Onus of Responsibility

Globally, Fair Trade is a movement for international trade justice. For producers, artisans, weavers, farmers, and craftswomen and men around the world it is an ethical business model which empowers disadvantaged communities with practices that are free from exploitation; is based on respect for universal human rights, women's rights, child rights, migrant rights, rights of the disabled and labour rights; embraces gender equity; and which incorporates environmentally sound practices. 

Fair Trade has been established as a means to alleviate poverty by providing economic opportunities for disadvantaged communities. The cause for most groups to be economically disadvantaged often starts with various forms of discrimination, hence the importance of addressing these communities. Discrimination can be based on:
  • Gender 
  • Race or Ethnicity 
  • Religion 
  • Disability 
  • Age 
  • Class 
  • Sexuality
Human Rights Day:
December 10, 2011

A Rights-Based Approach
In the field of International Development, programs and projects are often designed to target root causes. When an organization utilizes a Rights-Based Approach they recognize poverty as injustice and includes marginalization, discrimination, and exploitation as central causes of poverty.

As Fair Trade buyers of handicrafts, textiles and consumable products such as coffee or chocolate, it is nice to believe that we are leading the way in making ethical consumer choices a reality in the global marketplace. However, for producers, artisans, weavers, farmers, and craftswomen and men without a concrete understanding of these principles, rights and practices it is not possible for them to fulfill their role as Catalysts for Social Change in their communities. Simply stated, they are not empowered with an understanding of what Fair Trade is; how it is intended to benefit them and their communities; or the rationale for introducing ethical business practices. For Fair Trade to be ensured throughout the supply chain, producers must be brought into the fold.

But to integrate a Rights-Based Approach seems a near impossible task when admittedly, there is a low level of awareness amongst the artisans, weavers, farmers, and craftswomen and men engaged in Fair Trade. This must change if Fair Trade is to be sustainable well into the future! 

The first issue to be addressed is to inquire as to why a low level of awareness exists amongst those whom Fair Trade is intended to benefit.

As I wrote in January of 2011, Upon initiating this Journey for Fair Trade I had an email correspondence with Rodney North, the “Answer Man” of Equal Exchange. For over two decades this organization has been empowering farmers and producers through fairly traded coffee, tea, bananas and chocolate. He wrote of their experience in relation to my travels; “for what it’s worth – in our 24 yrs in the Fair Trade movement we’ve found that, by & large, individual farmers who are members of co-ops that export Fair Trade coffee or tea or sugar often have very little awareness of Fair Trade, and that this actually makes sense upon closer inspection. Conversely the professional staff of those same co-ops (the managers & other paid staff who process, market, export the coffee etc or do quality control and have regular contact with foreign buyers) often know much more about Fair Trade (as well about the other certification schemes their co-op uses – Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, Ethical Tea Partnership, etc).

This lack of awareness by the co-op members will be lowest when their co-op only sells a small portion of its production to Fair Trade buyers and will be higher – usually – if the co-op sells a lot to Fair Trade buyers. Other variables will be how long the co-op has been selling to the Fair Trade market, how much of a price difference those Fair Trade sales make, and how much direct contact the co-op members have w/ Fair Trade buyers. E.g. at a very remote/unvisited co-op the farmers/workers will generally have that much less awareness of Fair Trade.

To help increase the level of awareness of Fair Trade amongst coffee farmers in Guatemala we’ve given two grants to a non-profit, Cultural Survival, in recent years to produce radio programs on Fair Trade (& other topics) to be broadcast in multiple languages across a network of micro-radio stations in that country. To our knowledge this is a rare effort. 

I have to admit that before and during the Journey for Fair Trade, I encountered the same obstacles Rodney North listed and generally for the same reasons. However, this is inexcusable. 

Fair Trade cannot be a northern concept for northern markets – it has to be localized in the local communities of southern markets if Fair Trade is to be sustainable, and to do that requires a concerted and unified effort with the producers!

Look at this from the perspective of utilizing the established Principles:

Principle 1: Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers.
Poverty reduction through trade forms a key part of the organization's aims. The organization supports marginalized small producers, whether these are independent family businesses, or grouped in associations or co-operatives. It seeks to enable them to move from income insecurity and poverty to economic self-sufficiency and ownership. The organization has a plan of action to carry this out. 

My question here is simple: 

Unless the producers comprehend the cornerstones of Fair Trade, how are they enabled to move to economic self-sufficiency? Change can only occur when Fair Trade producers are empowered to bring change locally.

To empower producers they must have full knowledge of Fair Trade principles, understand their rights, and able to implement ethical business practices. However, for many producer groups there needs to be a well planned, comprehensive training program provided to facilitate this empowerment process.  

But who is responsible to sponsor or provide a training program in Fair Trade principles for producers?

Principle 4: Fair Trading Practices states, “The organization maintains long term relationships based on solidarity, trust and mutual respect that contribute to the promotion and growth of Fair Trade.”

Understandably, long-term relationships which contribute to the expansion of Fair Trade must include Capacity Building of trade partners. 

Principle 8: Providing Capacity Building states, “Organizations working directly with small producers develop specific activities to help these producers improve their management skills, production capabilities and access to markets local / regional / international / Fair Trade and mainstream as appropriate. Organizations which buy Fair Trade products through Fair Trade intermediaries in the South assist these organizations to develop their capacity to support the marginalized producer groups that they work with."

Clearly the onus for ensuring producers are empowered through knowledge of Fair Trade is on their trade partners: importers, buyers, wholesalers and retailers all share this responsibility!!! 

For producers Fair Trade is a partnership, not a charity. It is the responsibility of Fair Trade importers, wholesalers, buyers, and retailers to provide for the development of producer groups in order that they are empowered, self-sufficient trade partners capable of conducting international trade in ways which are beneficial to them and their community free from any form of exploitation! 

However, simply emailing a copy of the ten principles of Fair Trade in their language is not fulfilling the requirement to conduct, sponsor or facilitate a well planned, comprehensive training program. More needs to be included.... much more if Fair Trade is to be sustainable. Remember, our trade partners are coming from disadvantaged communities and for many the concepts embraced in Fair Trade are not only new and unfamiliar, but in some cases may be very foreign. The same goes for common business practices in a community.

In rural communities where many of the world's Fair Trade producers reside, I have found that local government officials are influential in establishing a social norm through their actions. For example, in localities where government corruption is a major impediment to national development, the concepts of Transparency and Accountability can be viewed as a threat and needs to be explained clearly and able to convey why this is important in Fair Trade.  

With the responsibility of providing capacity building clearly established in our shared Fair Trade Principles, the next question is: What does in mean to integrate a Rights-Based Approach? This will be the subject of the next blog post...

Mitch Teberg, MA 
International Consultant
Sustainable Development / Fair Trade
Researcher / Trainer / Consultant 

For those who prefer reading black on white, here is the downloadable version of this post on pdf: 
A Rights-Based Approach to Fair Trade - The Onus of Responsibility