Reply on Oserian’s Fairtrade practices

A few weeks ago I wrote about Naivasha’s flower farms, and the environmental and social impacts on the region. One of the more troubling aspects of the story is that some of the farms are certified Fairtrade, but have still seen worker protests.

My friend Zbigniew, who is pioneering Fairtrade in Poland, wrote to the Fairtrade Labelling Organization to get some perspective on this. Here is their reply:

Thank-you very much for your support for Fairtrade and for bringing this important matter to our attention.  I have a couple points of clarification, which may help to alleviate your concerns.

The labour unrest at Oserian was not in 2006 but 2005.  It related to Oserian deciding to sign a direct CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) with the local union to replace the industry-wide CBA.  The direct CBA was considered much stronger than the industry-wide CBA. Thereafter there were allegations of unrest with the workers/union. The case was later referred to the Kenyan Industrial Court and the decision was in favour of Oserian.

With regards to Lake Naivasha, Oserian has a permit from the Kenyan National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), the government’s regulatory authority and the Ministry of Water which gives water abstraction permits to farms around the Lake after thoroughly inspecting them.

Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns.

Reykia Fick, External Relations Coordinator
Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International

That gives a little backstory and shows the complexities involved, but doesn’t leave us much the wiser. I don’t quite understand why workers rioted – did Oserian usurp the union, or did the union act against its members interests? Either way, the workers didn’t seem to go along with it. No surprises that the court ruled in favour of Oserian either.

There is always the danger that as Fairtrade grows, it compromises to allow bigger players to gain certification. There’s a tricky balance to maintain between expanding the movement and policing its borders, and I would hope the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations are able to inquire into these kinds of situations.

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