OECD HIGH LEVEL
MEETING ON AGRICULTURE
3-4 September 2001
By Ron Oswald, General Secretary
International Union of Food, Agricultural, Tobacco,
Hotel, Restaurant, Catering and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF)
The IUF is an international trade union federation with 330 member
organizations in 120 countries and a representative membership of over
15 million workers spanning both industrialized countries and the poorer
non-OECD countries, particularly of the South. Indeed a majority of the
IUF’s membership is located in agriculture in the South. I am naturally
pleased to be here as part of TUAC’s delegation to this meeting since we
share a constituency as well as common principles and objectives with TUAC
and its 70 million members within the OECD.
The majority of the IUF’s membership are the women and men who labour
in the crop fields, orchards, glasshouses, livestock units, primary processing
facilities, and associated activities such as crop processing and packaging,
livestock food preparation, irrigation, pest management, and grain storage,
to produce the world’s food and commodities.
Most, though not all, are paid agricultural workers because they do
not own or rent the land on which they work nor the tools and equipment
they use. In these respects they are a group distinct from farmers.
They are part of the 450 million agricultural workers in paid employment
who make up approximately 40 percent of the world’s agricultural labour
force. The share of paid employment in agriculture, including the number
of wage-dependent smallholders in agriculture, is continuing to increase
in general and is critical to employment and income in rural areas. In
many countries both within and outside the OECD these workers are amongst
the poorest of the poor and it remains a tragic irony that those who feed
the world are often so poor that they cannot feed themselves.
The IUF also represents food industry workers who turn the raw agricultural
produce into industrial and consumer products in the form of processed
foods. The food industry presents many facets, from the traditional labour-intensive
activities often found in developing countries to the capital-intensive,
high value-added processes more common in the industrialized world.
Finally the third part of our global membership are amongst the millions
of workers in the hotel, restaurant and tourism sectors who then prepare
and serve the agricultural and processed food products to consumers.
The international trade union movement, of which TUAC and the IUF are
part, therefore approaches the issue of sustainable and secure food production
from a unique position, crossing as we do several relevant sectors and
representing a worker constituency that is at the same time a rural, an
industrialized and a consumer constituency.
The IUF has a historical and statutory commitment "to actively promote
the organization of the world's food resources for the common good of the
population as a whole." The IUF rules spell this commitment out in precisely
these words. This translates as an absolute mandate to work as effectively
and as pragmatically as possible to ensure an adequate supply of safe,
accessible and affordable food for all and to do so in common with any
and all who share our aims and our principles.
In this struggle for sustainable and secure agricultural and food production
paid agricultural and food workers are a force for positive change. A force
that can help bring about sustainable agriculture and help ensure food
security and food safety. I believe it particularly important that, as
part of TUAC’s delegation, the IUF is represented here today. I believe
that we put at risk the credibility of a process as important as the development
of sound and sustainable agricultural and food policies if the contribution
of millions of agricultural and food workers goes unrecognized and if they
are not included in the policy development process. Regrettably this remains
true in many fora including at the intergovernmental level. There is not,
for example, a single reference to waged agriculture workers in Agenda
21, Chapter 14 on sustainable agriculture and rural development or in any
of the associated texts. Still less recognition goes to the trade unions
that these workers create and join and that then represent them. Trade
unions through which they build organization and the essential strength
and capacity to help develop and protect sustainable social and environmental
standards in agriculture.
In conclusion if I may I would leave you with seven key points.
First we call upon governments, particularly the governments of the
United States and those within the European Union to monitor, together
with rural producers, agricultural workers‘ trade unions and other relevant
parties the real impact of subsidized exports on local agricultural production
in many developing countries and to make public the results of this monitoring.
Our membership believes that a fair and open evaluation of the impact would
totally support our current policy calling for an end to such export
subsidies because they so often damage local agricultural capacity particularly
in relation to basic food production.
Second we would ask for enthusiastic support for policy rooted in multifunctional
agriculture. Not as some quirky or quaint form of agricultural side show
but as a central plank of any policy for sustainable agriculture and rural
development. Full acceptance of the importance of multifuncionality will
allow agriculture to meet the world’s food needs while protecting critically
important social, economic and environmental criteria. Our position therefore
naturally encompasses rejection of the simplistic kind of agricultural
liberalization proposed by the CAIRNS group.
Third we recognize that major agro-food transnational companies in the
sector play an important role and that therefore a meaningful dialogue
between such companies and their social counterparts at the global level,
the IUF, is essential as an added and credible guarantee that they too
respect the necessary elements of truly sustainable agricultural development
and will do so in the future. Recent global agreements between the IUF,
the International Tobacco Growers Association and four major international
tobacco companies and between the IUF and Chiquita Brands International
seek to underpin social standards that we believe are important for sustainable
agriculture and rural development.
This approach has also led to joint pesticides training activity in
Africa with the global pesticide industry and its parent body formerly
called the Global Crop Protection Federation and now renamed Crop Life
However, and this is my fourth point, we part company with our social
counterparts in industry in relation to the increasing use of genetically
modified organisms in plant sciences and agricultural development. Our
members oppose totally the increasing development of such technology without
a significantly greater level of confidence that all the associated risks
are known and avoidable. We therefore support an absolute application of
the precautionary principle regarding this technology and a moratorium
until industry’s confidence in the effectiveness of, necessity for and
safety of this technology can be proved justified.
My fifth point is that truly sustainable agriculture and rural development
must be built on a broader acceptance of and the respect for democratic
rights and particularly the core labour standards of the International
Labour Organisation (ILO), particularly in relation to their application
to the agricultural sector. These rights must be recognized as a central
component and a measure of sustainable agriculture. Without the right to
form their own organizations there can be no serious way that those millions
of workers can contribute meaningfully and, as I have said earlier, without
their contribution we would dispute that true sustainable agriculture and
rural development is achievable. In addition the promotion of sustainable
employment and decent pay and working/living conditions for waged agricultural
workers are essential elements of sustainable agriculture and rural development.
My sixth point concerns the absolute necessity to improve occupational
health and safety standards for agricultural workers and farmers as a key
component and measure of sustainable agriculture and rural development
and to ensure those standards are properly regulated and enforced. The
direct relation between such standards in agriculture and the protection
of the environment is self evident. I would put it even more strongly.
Agriculture is simply not “sustainable” if the present level of fatalities,
accidents, poisonings and ill health is not drastically reduced.
My seventh and final point is addressed more to other civil society
organizations than to governments. There must be improved links between
farmers’ organizations, particularly small farmers’ organizations
and agricultural and food workers’ trade unions on the simple grounds that
both these groups increasingly need to address similar problems and therefore
need to cooperate more effectively together.
Chair, historically, agricultural workers and their trade unions have
been excluded from such decision-making processes affecting their industry
and livelihoods. They too-often remain so today. There are many even beyond
our ranks who would agree, particularly against falling confidence amongst
consumers in those who currently regulate and monitor the food and agricultural
system, that active and recognized participation in the process is long
overdue. Agricultural workers and their trade unions can and must
be encouraged and permitted to play a greater role in food and agricultural
policy issues for the benefit of the population as a whole, and in line
with the basic mandate that I quoted at the start of these remarks..