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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

IUF Presses Union Agenda for Solutions to Global Food Crisis/ ILO Workshop Marks Advance

Posted to the IUF website 21-Mar-2009

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The number of people currently afflicted with hunger is estimated at 1 billion and rising, yet international efforts to address the widening food crisis have, to date, explictly excluded workers and their trade unions. Unions have not been involved in emergency programs to provide immediate needs, nor have international agencies sought their involvement in building longer-term solutions.

Last year, when street riots were toppling governments in response to hyperinflation in the price of staple foods, the IUF proposed that the ILO convene a workshop to explore ways of bringing the ILO into UN interagency work on the food crisis. The Workers Group (led by James Ritchie from the IUF-affiliated NZDWU) during the 2008 International Labour Conference discussion on rural employment for poverty reduction called on the ILO to organize a broad meeting on the food crisis to examine, among other issues, the possibilities for ILO involvement, and, through the ILO, trade union involvement.

The IUF therefore welcomes the recommendations of the ILO technical tripartite workshop on the global food crisis held in Geneva on March 5-6, which should lead to unions being involved in international and national plans to deliver food security for all. The workshop also recommended that that the ILO work in partnership with the UN High Level Task Force (UN HLTF) on the Food Security Crisis to ensure that decent work, and in particular decent work in agriculture, is treated as an integral part of the global response.

Trade union, employer and government representatives took part in the workshop as well as participants from key UN agencies involved in the food crisis. Dr David Nabarro, coordinator of the UN HLTF recognized that its Comprehensive Framework for Action on the global food security crisis had not taken into account labour and ILO perspectives but assured the workshop that the task force would now be reassessing its approach and addressing this key deficit.

The workshop identified specific areas in which the ILO could bring to the UN High Level Task Force its specific experience and expertise. Key among these were employment creation, Occupational Health and Safety, child labour and gender issues.

The Workers Group (chaired by IUF) welcomed the contribution of Professor Olivier de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and his recognition that labour rights are crucial for finding solutions to the food crisis, in particular for strengthening the purchasing power of the poor.

At the 2008 International Labour Conference, IUF general secretary addressed as special session on the food crisis, highlighting the failure of the UN's FAO to address the root causes of the crisis (the full text is available in pdf format here). At the March workshop, the IUF's Sue Longley (who chaired the Workers' Group for the meeting) followed up on this analysis by asking why, despite the rush of UN work, the ranks of the global hungry had in fact grown significantly even as food prices had retreated from their crisis highs: "There is no room for complacency", said Longley."If speculation and biofuels converged to provoke hyperinflation, we cannot sit back, watch the money flow out, and conclude that the problem has taken care of itself through market corrections. Food and foodworkers have been subsumed into volatile global capital markets, These markets urgently require strong regulation to head off the next catastrophe. It is time to cut the umbilical cord linking oil and agriculture, so that we can move to more sustainable methods of production, halt climate change and rescue vanishing topsoil and water resources. These are also the daily concerns of agricultural workers."

The full text of her presentation is available in pdf format here.