Agriculture / Worker Rights / Worker Safety

Doing Right by Workers

Though the Rainforest Alliance is often categorized as a conservation organization, the well-being of workers and the protection of their basic rights have always been a critical part of our mission — and that’s evident throughout our work in agriculture, forestry and tourism.

To qualify for the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal, farms must meet a comprehensive set of criteria that is determined by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN). The SAN is a coalition of nonprofit organizations coordinated by the Rainforest Alliance. They consult with farmers, businesspeople, other NGOs and local governments to develop standards that are socially, environmentally and economically balanced.

So for example, in order for a farm to earn the seal, it must ensure that workers are granted freedom of association and the right to organize and freely negotiate their working conditions in a collective manner.

What’s more, Rainforest Alliance Certified farms must have — and publicly divulge — a policy guaranteeing this right and must permit workers to form and/or join unions, bargain collectively or organize for ideological, religious, political, economical, social or cultural reasons. (Notably, the SAN standard was the first agricultural certification standard to include freedom of association and many other conventions established by the International Labor Organization [ILO].)

One Colombian farm owner, Carlos Martinez, speaks about the impact of certification on worker rights, “The process has made us break with many paradigms, for example, not employing minors when people usually work with their children.”

We also prioritize employee rights and freedoms in our work with forestry enterprises. When auditors from the Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood program evaluate companies against Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) criteria, they must assess a forest business’s relationship with its workers and ensure that workers are free to organize and negotiate with their employers.

In addition, we helped to develop the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC), a set of voluntary standards for tourism businesses that requires that hiring be equitable, legal protections be respected and workers be paid a living wage. Tourism companies must also implement policies against the commercial exploitation of their workers, particularly children.

Freedom of association and other rights are vitally important — and not just for the obvious ethical reasons. In the long term, a business is only as effective as its employees, and a happy workforce equals a loyal and productive one. Though we evaluate businesses against environmental and social standards, we also want them to thrive economically. A responsible company that goes out of business after a year is of little use to its employees, community or the environment.

When people are paid decent wages, have access to good healthcare, are provided with proper training and afforded the freedom to organize — in short, when they are treated with respect and encouraged to take pride in their work — the result is a positive environment, in every sense of the phrase.

Want to hear more about how we’re improving conditions for workers around the globe? Read a few of our success stories.

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