ISEAL members helping to protect producers, workers and communities

4 min readAug 21, 2020


Joe Woodruff © Bonsucro

Today we find ourselves in one of the most disruptive times in modern history. Around the globe, sustainability organisations and sustainability-minded businesses are pivoting to support the producers, workers, families and enterprises along their supply chains in response to Covid-19.

Sustainability systems, such as ISEAL members, are responding to the challenge; highlighting the power they bring to collaborative working, sharing of information and stakeholder engagement.

Safety first

Foremost, ISEAL members provided health and safety guidance to the companies and workers in their supply chains.

Aluminium Stewardship Initiative supported member companies in creating a safe working environment for employees and stakeholders, by providing information on best practice for health, safety and wellbeing. Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and Global Coffee Platform focused on local support, offering links and other access to country-specific guidance. And, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) leveraged the strength of its stakeholder network by sharing the Building and Woodworkers International (represents trade union and workers’ interests) guidance on actions to protect workers, with FSC certified companies.

Fair Trade USA identified a spread of misinformation about Covid-19, especially in indigenous communities, having interviewed 80 producer groups. To help, they created and shared audio-visual resources for workers in indigenous languages on physical distancing, sanitation and hygiene, and mental health information.

Supporting individuals and communities

As individuals, families and communities around the world face the brunt of the economic situation, standards organisations are taking action to address increasing economic and social challenges.

Fairtrade International has broadened the way producer groups can use Fairtrade Premium funds, helping them to minimise the spread of disease. For example, by buying and distributing personal protective equipment or implementing hygiene campaigns. They have launched a producer resilience fund to meet immediate needs of farmers, workers and communities; and established a foundation for longer-term economic recovery efforts.

In addition, worker-run Fairtrade Premium Committees may distribute up to 100 percent of their Fairtrade Premium funds as direct cash to workers — since employees in hired labour organisations are likely to be hardest hit by loss of sales or ability to harvest.

To help meet the basic needs of producer communities in India, Nepal and Afghanistan, Goodweave created a child and worker protection fund. This will support efforts to track the health and safety of workers and families, facilitate urgent food aid to migrant workers, and provide supplies and services to Hamro Ghar, GoodWeave’s home for rescued children in Nepal.

Sharing examples and shining light on needs

Standards systems play an important role in shining a light on the problems faced by the producers and enterprises in their supply chains. During this time of rapid change, sharing examples of how certified entities and communities are responding provides a powerful model for others in their sector.

Rainforest Alliance’s regular updates from around the world share the challenges faced by workers, communities and companies. Recent reports range from deforestation risks due to a stalled renewable energy project in Kenya, to the challenges smallholders in Rwanda face in adapting to mobile banking, to the hardships brought by falling coffee prices in Indonesia.

Bonsucro brought together stakeholders to discuss how the sugarcane sector is reacting to the crisis. Member companies shared experiences from Central and South America and India and presented practical recommendations on how they are responding.

And, Marine Stewardship Council is sharing actions taken by certified companies, as fishing vessels find themselves stranded at sea with crew, and seafood companies switch from wholesale to direct sales to stay in business.

Advocating for the future

Standards organisations are using a range of tools to support their sectors, including advocacy.

For example, CEOs of Fairtrade organisations called on G20 leaders to help protect farmers and workers in developing countries. And, FSC joined the Green Recovery Alliance, a coalition of political decision-makers, business leaders, trade unions, and NGOs, asking to increase green investment and develop a new model of prosperity based on sustainability, protection of biodiversity and a climate resilient economy.

As we start to move toward the post-Covid-19 new normal, some standards are supporting their sectors to imagine a better future. For example, Textile Exchange is planning an interactive workshop to explore the big issues facing the sector, and to rethink how to make the textile industry fit for the future.

Rebuilding together

Some countries are beginning the slow process of re-opening, while others are still deep in lockdown. Many sectors face economic crisis. It is still too early to know the long-term impact on the supply chains in which ISEAL’s members work.

As a sustainability community, we will need to be flexible and adaptive as we support those most in need, adjust as sectors find new ways of working, and contribute to strengthening the resilience of the sectors in which we work.

Looking to the future, we need to work together to rebuild in a sustainable and equitable way. We’re all in this together.




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