Working with Fairtrade means that Tate & Lyle Sugars has a framework in place to address labour issues in a timely, responsible, and ethical way.

In 2016 when independent auditors found evidence of underage children working during school hours on two smallholder sugarcane farms in Belize, the auditors took swift action, suspending their certification and issuing corrective action to put things right before Fairtrade trading could resume.

For the sugarcane farmers, it was a potentially crippling blow – the Sugarcane Farmers Association had joined the Fairtrade system in 2008. For Tate & Lyle Sugars it was an unacceptable discovery that needed urgent action. Julia Clark from Tate & Lyle Sugars, says: ‘It is important to make sure no young people are working on the sugar cane farms where we source our sugar.’

Fairtrade farmers, auditors and Tate & Lyle Sugars came together. ’We had a choice,’ says Leonardo Cano, then Chairman of the farmers’ association. ’We wanted to become champions for children’s wellbeing”. ’We didn’t just want to do the minimum required to get our certificate back, we wanted to promote the rights of children and young people, to protect them from harmful influences, abuse, and exploitation. This is all about building for the future.’

‘Without the collaborative approach with Fairtrade it would have been very hard for ASR Group to achieve the same level of impact over such a long term,’ says Clark.

“The special position that Fairtrade occupies in the industry in Belize means that we can have impact directly on the ground where it matters, through things like the Fairtrade International initiative: Youth Inclusive Community Based Monitoring and Remediation (YICBMR) system on child labour. The smallholders, through their Fairtrade associations, have ownership of the problem and responsibility for addressing the social, cultural, and economic factors that drive child labour. They are educating their members and monitoring compliance, even lobbying government for more support and legislative reform on this issue.

“In July 2022, a major milestone was reached when the government of Belize launched a new strategy and policy to eliminate the worst forms of child labour by 2025. This followed collaboration with national stakeholders, sugarcane producer organisations and Fairtrade.

“The new policy makes several new commitments, including:

  • removing all ambiguities in the Labour Act as to what constitutes child labour
  • confirming the definition of a child across legislations
  • establishing clear inter-agency communication and data-sharing protocols in child labour cases
  • fostering the development of socially responsible code of ethics within the private sector”

“This is an extraordinary development and a critical step in the right direction. Fairtrade has been hard at work for many years collaborating with government, NGOS, supply chain actors and smallholder farmer organisations, including communities, to ensure worst forms of child labour are eliminated in Belize,” said Anita Sheth, at the time, Fairtrade International’s Senior Advisor for Social Compliance and Development (informal sectors).