International Human Rights Day

10 December 2013

Living Wage for Food Workers: What Eleanor Roosevelt would have wanted

Sixty-five years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights even the most basic human rights continue to be violated. To commemorate this year’s International Human Rights Day, I would like to accentuate living wage as a human right for workers in the supply chains of food and beverage companies. Eleanor Roosevelt, acknowledged for her key role in the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, was an ardent supporter of workers’ rights and a champion for living wage. I’m sure if she were alive today, she would have joined the many voices calling for the workers who produce the world’s food to earn a living wage.

Human rights are frequently neglected in under-regulated sectors like food and agriculture.  In our hotspots we conduct research and gather the stories of the workers and producers in the tomato-, pineapple-, vanilla-, sugarcane- and shrimp-industries in order to encourage food companies and governments to change their policies and practices. In some cases, we find that we need to re-emphasize the issue of living wage as a human right for workers in the supply chains of food and beverage companies.

Specifically, our Morocco hotspot seeks living wage for tomato workers in the Souss Massa area, one of the poorest regions in Morocco. These workers (of which the majority is female) often receive painfully low wages and work long hours with little or no safety equipment. The current wage for agricultural workers in Morocco is only 146 euro per month, which is below the national poverty threshold. While food and beverage companies should take responsibility and ensure that tomatoes and other fruit and vegetables they import from Morocco are produced under fair labour conditions, they often don’t.

When workers in food supply chains don’t earn a living wage, they cannot adequately meet their basic needs and those of their families. I believe it is time to change. Multinational food and beverage brands and retailers can and must play a leading role. They must increasingly integrate the concept of living wage in their corporate responsibility strategies and work very closely with their suppliers around the world, to implement it. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity. This is indisputable. Fairfood will continue to advocate for justice and human rights in the global food system, monitor progress and call attention to violations.