One Week Is Not Enough

26 November 2013

This week is International Food Workers Week. Worldwide, millions of people produce, harvest, process, pack, transport and serve the food that we eat every day. Unfortunately, many of these workers are overworked, underpaid, uninsured and, perhaps the most grotesque irony of all, many are also food insecure. As a society we have not only lost connection to the origins of our food, but we’ve lost contact with the very people who produce it. One week to raise awareness for the issues these workers are facing does not do them justice.

Taken as a whole, the food industry is the single largest industry in the world, yet its workers are some of our most vulnerable people. The issues are numerous and occur at all levels of global food supply chains. Fairfood’s five food issue hotspots provide a mere snapshot of a much larger global issue affecting millions of food workers and their families:

In the pineapple industry on the Philippine island of Mindanao, farmers and workers are trapped in poverty due to insufficient income and income insecurity. Precarious labour agreements exacerbate the workers’ lack of income security and the lack of freedom of association means that workers cannot bargain for better wages and working conditions. Many workers also develop health issues as a result of working with harmful pesticides.

In the tomato industry in the Souss-Massa-Drâa region in Morocco, workers find themselves earning painfully low wages, working long hours with little or no safety equipment and living in derelict housing. Furthermore, workers involved in labour unions, the key means to collectively bargain to improve working conditions, are often subject to threats, harassment and dismissal.

In the vanilla sector in the SAVA region of Madagascar, vanilla farmers suffer from income and food insecurity. The combination of factors leading to this are the theft of their crops, lack of access to resources to improve skills and cultivation practices and significant fluctuations in vanilla prices on the global market.

In the sugarcane industry in Nicaragua a disproportionate number of workers suffer from Insuficiencia Renal Crónica (IRC) or Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) which has been linked to the overall poor working conditions in the sector. Just watch Bitter Sugar – A Mystery Disease to understand why.

In the shrimp industry in Samut Sakhon province of Thailand, the workers who peel, devein, dehead and prepare shrimp in processing facilities is mostly done by vulnerable groups such as women, children and (undocumented) migrants from Burma. These workers are often subjected to exploitative practices such as low wages, long working days of up to 12 hours and even forced labour.

Food workers across the food supply chain deserve more. At Fairfood we stand in solidarity with food workers every day and we urge food companies worldwide to respect the workers in their supply chains and take responsibility for preventing any harmful social, economic and environmental consequences which may occur as a result of their activities.