Research Department Working Paper n°24

Upgrading agricultural work: A comparative analysis of voluntary certification schemes

This paper presents the results of a comparative analysis of five leading global agro-food certification schemes that cover labour rights and protection, including for small farmers, as an integral part of their certification scope.

In many agro-food supply chains, certification has become an important means of reinforcing adherence to standards on process quality and acceptability, including the acceptability of labour practices across the supply chain, and communicating this to buyers and end consumers. Certification is a procedure by which a third party gives written assurance that a product, process or service is in conformity with certain standards. There is, however, growing concern that suppliers in some agro-food industries are becoming overburdened by certification schemes, process standards and corporate codes of conduct. With multiple overlapping and costly schemes weighing in particular on individual grower suppliers, the reliability and added value of certification needs to be reassessed. Several frameworks are being considered to signal acceptable labour rights practices within food supply chains. There are currently multiple methodologies with diverse scope and coverage for monitoring and reporting on rights and working conditions in agriculture. These methodologies are based largely on the voluntary certification standards set by individual firms and industries.