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IUF Global Sugar Conference: Responding to Challenges in the Sector

Posted to the IUF website 24-Jul-2004

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Concern is growing amongst IUF sugar affiliates about the impact of the proposed reforms of the European Union sugar regime, tabled by the European Commission on 14 July. The Commission proposal includes an end to the intervention price system; change the production quota system, and cut guaranteed prices in 37 percent by 2007/08. It is expected that reforms to EU sugar regime would also have a major negative impact on the preferential agreement on which many ACP sugar industries depend.

On 19 July, IUF-affiliates GAWU and NAACIE and the sugar company GUYSUCO held a demonstration in Georgetown, Guyana to protest the devastating impact the changes could have on their economy. The protest called on the EU to consult and negotiate any future change to the EU/ACP arrangement.

From Mauritius, the PWU said that the proposed reform would have a disastrous impact on the 30,000 people employed in the industry and the 25,000 cane farmers. The union demands that the EU maintain the sugar protocol or make appropriate compensation if the reform goes ahead. A summary of the proposed reforms appeared in Sugar Worker, June 2004

The reform of the EU sugar regime and the future of the EU/ACP sugar protocol were amongst the many issues discussed at IUF's global sugar conference, held at the NGG education centre BZO, Oberjosbach, Frankfurt from 19-21 May 2004.

Introducing the conference, Franz-Joseph M�llenberg, NGG president, spoke of the unions' concerns with the sector's long-term sustainability that requires fair working conditions and protection for the environment, in the context of the globalisation and liberalisation.

Without clearly outlining the reforms of the EU sugar regime, the EU Agricultural Commissioner Franz Fischler said the sector would have to be more competitive, and in the process jobs would be lost. The German minister for Consumer Affairs and Agriculture Renate K�nast said that reforming the sugar regime was not a simple task, and interests of workers and concerns of developing countries need to be taken into consideration.

Reflecting the scope of the IUF's affiliation, delegates heard presentations on seven sugar cases, starting with Brazil, the world's largest sugar and alcohol complex. The Brazilian delegation challenged the common idea that low costs represent an efficient production by making a crucial connection between low costs and limited rights for workers and aggression to the environment, in addition to the impact of technology in displacing labour, in their industry.

A Jamaican women worker described the disadvantages women experience in the Caribbean sugar industry, such as lower wages (e.g. tasks they are unable to complete) and sexual harassment in a male-dominated sector. Also from the Caribbean, the experience of Guyana showed how unions supported the recovery and expansion of their industry: Guyana has more than tripled production in the past decade.

Examining the East Germany sugar sector after reunification, the conference learned about the consolidation of production and the expansion of West Germany companies, while a presentation on Social Corporate Responsibility in the (West) European sector underlined the long-term efforts by unions to bring employers and employees to work together. Eastern Europe was introduced through a presentation on Ukraine, once one of the world's largest beet industries, but currently unable to recover production and resolve policy matters, and where employment has dramatically declined, and working conditions and wages deteriorated.

The challenges to unionisation were discussed in the context of the Indian sugar sector, where a harsh economic environment and political influences present serious obstacles to the organising of workers, in particular the agricultural and migrant labourers.

In its conclusions, the conference recommended that sugar continue as a priority crop area for the IUF. Reaffirming that the strength of a union depends on organising and representing workers in the work place, the conference made special reference to field, seasonal, and migrant workers, as groups more vulnerable to exploitation. Further recommendations call the IUF to:

(See Conclusions from the Conference.)

One hundred and ten participants from 38 unions, in addition to speakers and guests attended the conference.

Available are an IUF position paper on sugar drafted for the conference and a list of conference documents.

Further information (in German only):
BZO web site
NGG web site