Options for Code of Conduct IFOAM traders


Broad Context

In 1992 (Sao Paulo, Brazil) the General Assembly of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) decided to work towards the inclusion of social standards into its Basic Standards for organic agriculture. Since 1996 a chapter on social justice (Ch.10) was incorporated in the Basic Standards. Given that sustainability is the end goal for organic agriculture and because sustainability includes social, economical and ecological components, organic movement must reflect this in all areas of practice.

Companies are currently becoming more involved in social issues related to trade due to increasing consumer demand and are establishing their own "ethical trading" guidelines or are using tools such as Social Accountability 8000 from Social Accountability International (SAI formerly known as CEPAA) among others. For the fast-growing organic movement an evaluative process about the ways forward and the need for strengthening and entrenching the social agenda into organic practice is urgently needed for a wide range of reasons. The main ones are:

  • Consumers associate social justice issues with the organic movement. Organic practices must reflect this otherwise its credibility could be questioned.
  • Because of the absence of a practicable social framework for organic agriculture some IFOAM members are starting to create their own systems. Illustrating this trend is the Hand in Hand concept of Rapunzel, a German based initiative.

Within the organic movement social issues are still under discussion. Revision of the chapter on social justice is a very delicate process that should be carried out under the supervision of the IFOAM Standards Committee. Valuable information from organisations outside the organic movement like Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), Fair Trade Labelling Organisation (FLO), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Social Accountability International (SAI) can be taken into account. While these organisations can provide useful insights, IFOAM members must be the key participants in the discussion about how to develop coherent auditable systems that integrate social issues and ensure conformance to universal human rights.

At the 6th IFOAM Trade Conference (Italy, October 1999) and at Biofach 2000, the future of a social agenda for organic agriculture was raised. At Biofach 2000, in both the meeting of IFOAM members on a social agenda and in the Working Group on Trade meeting, the issue of Codes of Conduct for traders and other actors in the organic system was discussed . It was generally felt that action towards a comprehensive social agenda was necessary and that the form of a Code of Conduct was a tool that could be put in place in a shorter time span than the longer and more complicated process of revising social standards.

As part of a broad strategy to examine how to address social issues, IFOAM has undertaken a number of reseach and development activities. It is participating in a joint research project with SAI and FLO International to develop best practice in social auditing and to co-ordinate this with environmental certification. Among other issues, the project will examine the impact of social monitoring and auditing at the farm level on all actors in the supply chain. Furthermore, in order to help facilitate the development of a Code of Conduct for Traders, the IFOAM Excecutive Board asked NovoTRADE (www.novotrade.nl) to prepare a paper outlining possible options forward for discussion and evaluation at the IFOAM Scientific Conference in Basel 2000.. Depending on the discussion and the willingness of traders to subscribe to and implement a Code of Conduct, the Excecutive Board will decide how to continue the process.. However, the successful development and implementation of the code ultimately depends on the initiative and support of the private sector. It is hoped that discussion about a Code of Conduct for Organic Traders will stimulate a process to support companies in fulfilling consumer demands for socially responsible and environmentally preferable products.

email: info@novotrade.nl
last updated: 24 october 2000
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