Conference: fair trade and CSR in times of crisis

Sustainable Development Goal(s): 8. Decent work and economic growth12. Responsible consumption and production

Priorities for change: Resources
Conference: fair trade and CSR in times of crisis

Climate change and the current health crisis remind us that the way we have organised the globalisation of trade, with just-in-time international value chains, makes us particularly vulnerable and puts great pressure on ecosystems. We need to rethink how we trade. The economic activity in essential sectors such as healthcare and food urgently need to be re-localised so that we can strengthen our autonomy and resilience. In addition, it is equally important to make non-replaceable supply chains (such as coffee, cocoa and bananas) sustainable and fair. The perfect opportunity in other words to achieve the social and ecological transition our society needs.

Debate 1: Fair Trade in times of crisis

The first debate helped us try to find out whether fair trade can contribute to this transition? And under what conditions? Does trade really have to be as local as possible? To what extent is the relocation of these value chains likely to increase rather than diminish global inequalities? 


  • Willem Olthof, Deputy Head of Unit, Rural Development, Food Secuirty and Nutrition, DG DEVCO, European Commission 
  • Julie Maisonhaute, Deputy General Delegate, responsible for French branches and territories at Commerce Equitable France 
  • Indro Dasgupta, Craft Resource Center (India) and WFTO Board member 
  • Nicolas Lambert, Director Fairtrade Belgium and Professor at Louvain School of Management

Fair trade is a movement that is constantly looking for cohesion, with various different dynamics at play. One of these is an important one: fair trade has long been confined to the North-South solidarity trade, but has since opened up to local trade. First in southern countries like Mexico, India, South Africa, Kenya and Ecuador. Brazil has even gone so far as to introduce legislation that heads in that direction. Then in European countries to obtain a sustainable agricultural model to strengthen the social fabric. In Belgium, various initiatives were launched: the label ‘Prix juste producteur’, Fairbel milk and the ‘Biogarantie Belgium’ label that has adopted certain fair-trade criteria. More traditional fair trade organisations like Miel Maya honey, Oxfam, Ethiquable and others have also integrated localplayers and products. 

Debate 2: CSR legislation Vs Voluntary initiatives?

The second debate addressed Corporate social responsibility in a company’s supply chain. Although many promises were already made, companies find it hard to assume their responsibility in the supply chains. Just look at child labour on the cocoa plantations of the two largest producing countries, Ivory Coast, and Ghana, which has increased over the last ten years, despite the industry’s promises to reduce it. 


  • Didier Reynders, EU Commissioner for Justice. 
  • David Coleman, VP Public Affairs Europe de Mars. 
  • Sarah Vaes, Advocacy Manager, Oxfam Belgium
  • Sara Geenen, Assistant Professor in International Development, Globalization and Poverty at the University of Antwerp.

To make the supply chain more sustainable, voluntary certification schemes are widely promoted, and countries such as Belgium or the Netherlands are developing voluntary initiatives with various stakeholders, along the lines of ‘Beyond Chocolate’. The UK and France, on the other hand, opted for a different route and passed laws requiring companies of a certain size to publish a report on the measures they adopt to avoid human rights violations in their supply chain. Last April, the European Commission announced a legislative initiative on corporate social responsibility for 2021. We will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of mandatory standards, their content and the necessary means of control to ensure their efficiency, as well as the role and place of voluntary initiatives in such context.