The International Dairy Federation, IDF, held its annual World Dairy Summit in Auckland (New Zealand), 8-11 November 2010.
2,200 delegates from over 70 countries primarily representing dairy, packaging, engineering and financial services companies, research institutes, government regulatory and monitoring authorities and a large number of mostly NZ farmers were in attendance.
James Ritchie, National Secretary of the NZ Dairy Workers Union, attended this event as the only representative of organized labour.
The theme of the conference was “sustainability” and there were numerous conference sessions running simultaneously over the 4 days. James attended the sessions on dairy policies and economics. Other sessions focussed on dairy farming, dairy science, nutrition and health, marketing, product integrity and manufacturing technology.
The Chair of the IDF, Richard Doyle, highlighted the work of the federation across a “sustainability spectrum” and commented that while the IDF was undertaking comprehensive work on nutrition, climate change, environment, biodiversity, animal welfare and food safety, it had not yet begun work on labour standards and worker safety.
Workers rights were not on the agenda of the leaders nor the delegates to conference and the industry perspectives were almost exclusively employer and market perspectives. The mood was buoyant and it was if the GFC and the resulting global debt and employment crises were just a blip in the necessary and relentless progress of market liberalisation. The misery imposed on millions of the world’s people by reckless financial markets was viewed as an opportunity for dairy TNCs as it would attract finance to protein-based food commodities in a competitive price rising scramble to secure food supply.
“Sustainability” is a term captured by the industry to secure the longevity of the agro-business model albeit with large investment in technology to reduce carbon emissions and aggressive marketing of which this Summit was an integral part. Environmental sustainability measures are essential to the industry but in this structural framework, such measures are only triggered by the market signals of customers and consumers rather than by any concern for the sustainability of ecosystems and communities. Decent work and the sustainability of rural communities did not feature in the conference proceedings except for a presentation from the Indian Dairy Board which had a strong rural development theme.
James Ritchie formulated the following recommendations:
1. The IUF should make a formal approach to the IDF to enter into meaningful dialogue on the establishment of IDF-endorsed labour standards, including health and safety.
2. The approach by the IUF to get a discussion on labour standards in the dairy supply chain at the ILO is very timely and all possible influence should be brought upon the ILO to agenda the discussion.
3. The work of the ILO in rural development for poverty reduction should be cognisant of developments in the dairy industry as the industry is both an opportunity and a threat to increasing incomes in rural areas. In this regard, the developmental approach undertaken by the Dairy Board of India has much to commend it and should be noted by the ILO and FAO.
4. Nestle, Fonterra, Danone, Friesland Campina and Arla are critical companies in the global dairy supply chain and this should be considered by the dairy division of the IUF in establishing priorities. Some US Dairy companies such as Dairy Farmers of America and Schreiber are sleeping giants in the global supply chain and should be carefully monitored for expansionist moves.
5. The push towards financialisation of the dairy industry is a major threat to producers and workers rights and incomes and the IUF should carefully monitor the actions of speculators in global dairy markets and alert affiliates to actions which have the potential to destroy parts of the industry which people rely on for their livelihoods.