Fair Labor Standards and the Organic Industry

Fair Labor Standards and the Organic Industry

The Agricultural Justice Project now has it’s own website! Check it out at www.agriculturaljusticeproject.org

AJP Featured in the Fair Food Project’s Documentary

A new documentary called “Fair Food: Field to Table” has just been released. It tells the stories of the farmworkers, growers, and advocates of a more socially just food system. In the third part, the Agricultural Justice Project is featured as one of the advocates at the forefront of the movement! Below is Part Three of the documentary where AJP is featured. Click here to view the rest.

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This month, the Agricultural Justice Project made history by piloting a food label that verifies fairness for farmers and farmworkers alike.

The AJP is a non-profit initiative to create a fair and equitable food system through the development of social justice standards for organic and sustainable agriculture.

Minneapolis-based Local Fair Trade Network partnered with AJP on the pilot launch, July 22 –25 in Minneapolis and Winona, Minn. Co-op grocery shoppers there found labels reading Local Fair Trade: Meets Agricultural Justice Project Standards on produce from participating pilot farms.

The launch is part of a growing movement around the country to develop a domestic fair trade system that will model a new approach to agriculture.

To read more about the pilot, check out:

Farmworker Conference on Fair Trade

CATA continued its leadership role by working with partners including the Minnesota-based Centro Campesino and Local Fair Trade Network to plan this unique event, which took place in Owatonna, Minnesota April 28-30, 2007.

Conference participants reached consensus on the following points:

  • Agricultural workers and their representative organizations need to have equal representation, voices and participation in the elaboration of the Domestic Fair Trade label – for example: the development of the standards, governance, the implementation of standards and monitoring of participating farms, among other things.
  • Fair wages are an indispensable requirement in the certification of Domestic Fair Trade.
  • The right to organize without retaliation must be guaranteed to all workers.

To view the conference agenda and public statement, go to www.localfairtrade.org

Agricultural Justice Project Pilot Underway

This Spring CATA along with its project partners from RAFI-USA and Quality Certification Services conducted site audits in the Upper Midwest (Minnesota and Wisconsin).

The trip took consisted of audits of four organic farms, two coop stores, as well as two public outreach meetings, and some additional smaller meetings with interested farmers and others. We were accompanied on some of the audits by an inspector from MOSA (the Upper Midwest organic certifier) and staff from Centro Campesino, a local farmworker organization. The farm audits consisted of an initial meeting with the farmer and all the workers together to review the basic principles of the project, and then one-on-one confidential interviews with the farmer and with the workers.

Participating farmers have all pledged to respect their workers right to freedom of association and to negotiate the terms of employment. The farms are all in the process of developing draft contracts based on the AJP standards, which the workers will review and then have the opportunity to negotiate over if there is anything they disagree with.

A public launch of the Agricultural Justice Project, in coordination with the Local Fair Trade Network , is being planned for Summer 2007 in the Upper Midwest. CATA and its partners have begun to identify interested farms and coops in other regions in the U.S. for an expansion leading into the 2008 season.



CATA Pushes for Social Justice in the International Organic Movement

Organic agriculture has its roots in the broader progressive movement. Its founders saw organic agriculture as a means to build a food system and society that was not only more environmentally sound, but also more just. And yet, as organic agriculture has become more successful and mainstream, it is characterized more and more by large-scale farms that have converted to organic purely as a marketing decision. Although this still carries with it the benefit of reducing pesticide use in agriculture, these “new” organic farms often perpetuate the injustices present in agriculture in general – such as oppressive and exploitative working conditions for farmworkers.

In the U.S. this is more true than perhaps anywhere else. All organic certification in the U.S. is now overseen by the USDA, which has explicitly stated that labor rights have no place within the definition of organic agriculture. Fortunately, there are many people – consumers, workers’ organizations, and some organic certifying agencies – who feel otherwise.

Internationally the outlook is even brighter. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), an international network of organic certifying agencies and others interested in maintaining and promoting consistent and stringent organic standards, has adopted broad Social Justice principles, which are due to go into effect this year (2004). Several certification programs, such as in Mexico and Bolivia, have independently developed worker justice standards.

There is a growing consensus that exists within the international organic community for strong labor standards that are based on existing international human rights laws. Overall, however, the movement is at a very early stage. CATA has taken advantage of this opportunity by using its unique voice as a workers’ organization to influence the process. For the past few years CATA has been developing and circulating guidelines and standards that would define fair working conditions and economic equity for the small-scale farmer. The project, “A Call for Social Justice in Sustainable and Organic Agriculture”, represents a collaboration of CATA, Rural Advancement Foundation International, Peacework Organic Farm, and la Asociación de Organizaciones de Productores Ecológicos de Bolivia (AOPEB), a Bolivian organic campesino association primarily representing indigenous farmers.

The project’s draft standards have gone through several revisions based on a series of extensive public comment periods. The standards (available upon request) are currently in their fourth draft and include sections on the rights of workers, small-scale farmers, and indigenous peoples. These standards are also proving useful in CATA’s increasing work with the United Nations. The section on workers’ rights includes the following:

  • Adherence to international laws protecting workers, including ILO Conventions and UN Charters.
  • Freedom of association and right to collective bargaining
  • Fair grievance procedure
  • Living wages
  • Safe and adequate housing
  • Health and safety protections, including access to adequate medical care, a “right to know” clause and the expectation that the least toxic alternative is always used on the farm.

International Work

To promote the adoption of these standards, and to influence other social justice labeling programs under development, CATA has convened (together with our project partners) a series of international fora:

  • Washington DC, 2000
  • Victoria, Canada, 2002 (pre-IFOAM World Congress)
  • Bangkok, Thailand, 2003 (full proceedings available upon request)
  • Montevideo, Uruguay, (February 2005)
  • Adelaide, Australia, (pre-IFOAM World Congress – September 2005)

Hundreds of representatives of organizations from over sixty countries have now participated in these fora, which have created a space in which workers, small-scale farmers, fair trade companies and organizations, indigenous peoples, and organic certifiers can sit at the same table and achieve consensus, moving us one step closer to ensuring that workers’ rights are respected within organic and sustainable agriculture.

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