An unprecedented event took place on 9 March in Agadir, Morocco. For the first time ever, a conference about the working conditions in global food chains was organised in this region. Against the backdrop of the agricultural fields of Souss Massa, over 100 companies, local workers, trade unions and representatives from local governments attended the conference and exchanged their expertise on how to successfully improve working conditions of global food workers.
Improving working conditions in global food chains: Examples of good practices, innovation and collaboration and how to face the challenges ahead
The conference – funded by the Ford Foundation – was organised by Fairfood in collaboration with the local labour union the Fédération Nationale du Secteur Agricole (FNSA). Fairfood and the FNSA have worked together since 2013 on improving the working conditions and the wages of tomato workers in the Souss Massa region (one of the main areas of agricultural production in the country and employing 74,000 people). During their work in Morocco, the FNSA and Fairfood have discovered that there is often a lack in knowledge sharing between all the different organisations working on these type of issues and that all could benefit from each other’s knowledge. With this conference they aimed to bring together experts and professionals that wouldn’t normally talk to one another and so they could share experiences and ideas for how to overcome the challenges facing workers.
The conference was attended by over 100 participants from a wide range of backgrounds. Representatives from the Ministries of Labour and Agriculture in Morocco were present, as well as the vice-president of the region, the Dutch Embassy, local agricultural producers, trade unions, academics, NGOs and agricultural workers.
It’s an unprecedented event. The presentations are interesting, we can hear the voice of different parties and actors – Moroccan producing company
A wide range of experts, organisations and companies shared examples of initiatives which have contributed to improved working conditions, such as increased income, education for workers’ children, more workers registered for social security and increased dialogue between unions and companies. After the presentations, the participants met in separate groups to discuss the challenges facing workers in more depth. This gave participants from different backgrounds the opportunity to share their knowledge and experiences so they could really learn from each other (for the full program, click here).
“The presentations and the workshops tackled most of the thorny issues in the agricultural sector … Hopefully this will result in recommendations and solutions for the welfare of workers and the development of the sector” – Solidarity Center
Moroccan company Pack Souss – which packages fresh produce – achieved a cultural change within their organisation in which all levels are involved and feel connected: both workers and management are now having an active role in improving the working environment and in bringing about behavioural changes. They achieved this through training, discussions between workers and management on problems and how to solve them, and regular monitoring of project indicators. In addition, the company has created a program to provide education for the children of its workers.
Moroccan trade union, the CDT (Confédération Démocratique du Travail), shared their experiences of setting up a collective bargaining agreement between five agricultural companies in Meknes in January 2015. This was a landmark agreement and was the culmination of a multi-year process. It had a particular focus on gender equality, providing training for women and getting women to do jobs which had previously been reserved just for men. CDT emphasised how collaboration between all stakeholders is essential to bring about this type of agreement and how this will not happen in an environment suffering from conflicts and high tension: companies and unions have to be able to work together.
“It’s just amazing to see the different actors involved in the discussions. There were representatives from the government, unions, workers, social security, and others. Gender equality was also respected. I’m happy to see the presence and participation of all these women” – Conseil National des Droits de l’Homme, Agadir
The Dutch Embassy in Morocco is working to create a Center of Excellence in Agadir. This was developed by the Dutch and Moroccan governments, together with the private sector, universities and public institutions in Morocco. The Dutch have a good record on efficient and sustainable food production and the Center of Excellence will provide a setting in which they can share this expertise through demonstrations, research and training. This will help to improve productivity and sustainability in the region.
Closing words were provided by Ghada Abdel Tawab, Economic and Social Rights Program Officer at the Ford Foundation in the MENA region (the Ford Foundation aims to create a just, fair, and peaceful world with opportunity for all). Abdel Tawab talked about the necessity of improving working conditions and the need for shared dialogue. She described the potential of Morocco to be a leader and a model for other countries in the MENA region in terms of sharing knowledge and working together to find solutions to protect those living in informality.
The conference affirmed that it is very important that the dialogue between the stakeholders will continue in the future. The challenges facing workers are huge and no single actor has the power to overcome them alone. By sharing knowledge and resources, at events such as this one, different stakeholders can work together to bring about positive change for Moroccan agricultural workers.
This conference was organised with the help of the Ford Foundation, MENA region.