“We all fight for the same cause, but with different slogans”: uniting for change in Morocco’s agricultural sector

2 June 2015

Fortunately, Fairfood is not the only organisation in Morocco striving to improve the labour conditions of Moroccan workers, such as agricultural workers. Last week, we visited the capital city of Rabat together with our Moroccan partner the agricultural labour union FNSA to speak with Oxfam and Solidarity Center in order to exchange knowledge and share lessons learnt. Julie Theroux-Seguin, Gender, Advocacy and Communication Manager at Oxfam: “We need to realise we all work on the same general issues, but with slightly different approaches. It’s important to see how we can complement each other.”

Photo Rabat Kasbah - by Dan Diffendale


Working on the same topics

Oxfam, Solidarity Center and FNSA have all been working a number of years on improving the labour conditions of workers in low-skilled sectors in Morocco. Oxfam has implemented a project with local partners aimed at improving the working conditions of female workers in Morocco’s berry sector. Solidarity Center works specifically on improving the labour conditions of women in the agricultural sector, as well as workers in the hospitality sector and call centres. The FNSA works on empowering agricultural workers and we have been working with the FNSA since 2013.

Key topics that all three organisations are tackling include: improving workers’ wages, safe and healthy working conditions, formalising employment contracts, access to social security, reducing long working hours, the right to maternity leave and improve transport safety to and from work.

“How does one reach women who already work six days a week?”

Meeting FNSA, Oxfam and Fairfood International

Meeting with Moroccan agricultural labour union FNSA and Oxfam in Rabat to exchange knowledge

Women workers

Most low-skilled sectors in Morocco, such as the agricultural sector, employ a lot of women. In the tomato sector in the Souss-Massa-Drâa region, women account for 70% of the workforce. Yamina Babao, secretary general of the FNSA: “Feminisation of female workers is happening in many of the low-skilled working sectors in Morocco. Women are thought to be more obedient and to not claim their rights.”

All organisations acknowledged that it is difficult to involve women. Hind Cherrouk from the Solidarity Center: “How does one reach women who already work six days a week, work long hours and want to spend time on their only day off to go to the hammam (bathhouse), the souk (market) and to take care of their children?” To address this issue, Solidarity Center organised a large outreach event in Morocco on the 8 March 2015 – International Women’s Day – aimed at mobilising and raising awareness among vulnerable agricultural workers, who are mostly women employed at large farms. This event had a celebratory appeal to it to mark the International Women’s Day and specifically sought to increase the awareness of female agricultural workers regarding gender-based violence; their legal labour rights; health and safety; and the role of the union in protecting and safeguarding their rights. Hind Cherrouk: “Overall, role-play scenarios helped the participants (most of whom are illiterate) to understand their rights easily.”

Meeting Solidarity Center, FNSA and Fairfood International

“The training sessions provided the workers a lot of self-confidence, knowledge and motivation and renewed their energy.”

Training of workers

Lahoucine Boulberj – secretary general of FNSA in the Souss-Massa-Drâa region – shared his experience working with Fairfood and the Dutch labour union FNV. “We all learned a lot from each other, about how to successfully advocate and different ways of working. Fairfood and FNV provided training to workers, for example, on how to negotiate for better working conditions, and a lot of workers came out of the training feeling empowered. They gained more influence in the companies they work for.” FNSA also ensured that the training sessions are reinforced by training new trainers. “The training sessions provided the workers a lot of self-confidence, knowledge and motivation and renewed their energy.”

FNSA invited three female agricultural workers from the South to join the meeting with Oxfam. Lahoucine Boulberj: “These women are active in the union and can learn from these meetings. This will make them feel more empowered and give them practical training on how to engage with more energy to continue their fight for fair labour rights in the companies they work for.”

Tomato worker Hanan L’Fadili told us that she thought that working meant she just had to do the work and that she didn’t have any rights. “Before joining the union I had no right to social security and worked very long hours. Later, I joined the FNSA and they helped us to learn about the Labour Code and understand our rights.”

Tomato worrker Hanan

Tomato worker Hanan L’Fadili shares her story in the meeting with Oxfam

Solidarity Center discovered that it is very important to get all women talking about their experiences during the training and to share their experiences with the group. Hind Cherrouk: “It creates links and solidarity within the group. And by doing role-plays, they see how they can change their situation.”

Oxfam’s berry project had great success in raising awareness through organising special white caravans, which travelled around the villages in the berry production areas. Large tents were set up and berry workers were invited and informed of their labour rights, such as their right to social security and right to formal employment contracts. These caravans turned out to be such a great success that they are still travelling around the area, supporting empowerment for female workers in the berry sector.

Exchanging knowledge

“We all fight for the same cause, but with different slogans. We need to do this together”

All organisations agreed on the benefits of exchanging knowledge with peer organisations and other stakeholders. Julie Theroux-Seguin of Oxfam highlighted the importance of working with multi-stakeholders in order to ensure sustainable change. Different stakeholders, such as local civil societies, the Ethical Trading Initiative, producing companies, berry importers and retailers were involved in their project.

Lahoucine Boulberj: “We all fight for the same cause, but with different slogans. We need to do this together”. Lahoucine Boulberj highlighted the benefits of organising seminars about the labour issues affecting their work: “By sharing our studies and updates on work with other organisations and media, we put more pressure on the Moroccan government to align SMIG and SMAG (Morocco has two minimum wages, one for industrial workers – SMIG – and one for agricultural workers – SMAG. The latter is 30% lower than the industrial minimum wage and is far below a living wage). In this light, the FNSA invited Oxfam and Solidarity Center to join a seminar this autumn on exchanging knowledge on working on better labour conditions for agricultural workers in Morocco.

Fairfood’s ‘Empowering Moroccan tomato workers to improve their livelihoods’ capacity development project is funded by the Ford Foundation.