Published: 18/03/2010

The IUF Global Dairy Conference held in Buenos Aires and Sunchales, Argentina March 9-12 brought together 120 union representatives from 22 countries to map a united trade union approach and action in response to the common problems facing dairy workers globally. Everywhere, dairy workers confront the multiple impacts of  accelerating horizontal, vertical and retail concentration leading to mounting pressure along the entire production chain for workers as well as small producers and family farmers, attacks on working conditions and union organization through outsourcing, casualization and other forms of precarious work and environmental degradation and climate change eroding the sustainability of the sector. Hosted by the Argentina Dairy Workers Union (ATILRA), the conference was not only the largest-ever gathering of dairy workers’ unions internationally, but also unique in involving as well representatives of government, industry and small producers.

The research, alliances, exchanges of information and experiences and commitment to common action will be developed further through concrete union work in 2010. Along with the more familiar transnational agrofood companies that source huge amounts from the dairy sector, the Conference identified New Zealand-based dairy transnational Fonterra as a company in need of heightened international union attention and action. Fonterra operates in the Americas through its joint venture with Nestlé, Dairy Partners of the Americas (DPA), and is rapidly expanding its footprint in the region. James Ritchie, national secretary of the New Zealand Dairy Workers Union (NZDWU), warned that Fonterra, though little known in Latin America, already owned Chile’s leading dairy company Soprole and that unions would be holding Fonterra, along with its DPA partner Nestlé, globally accountable for employment conditions and respect for union rights at their joint venture operations.