Published: 08/03/2010

The right to food is grounded in key human rights instruments (declarations, conventions, covenants) which oblige governments not only to protect this fundamental right but also to actively ensure that the right to food is effectively realized. Non-state actors, including the agrifood corporations which increasingly dominate the global food system, also have obligations under international human rights law, including an obligation to ensure that human rights are not violated as a result of their operations.

A new report from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, issues a series of strong recommendations for governments and corporations in the light of “their different but complementary responsibilities under international law” in realizing the right to food.

A fundamental premise of the report is that over half the world’s hungry are food producers – waged agricultural workers and smallholder producers – and that realizing the right to food requires action inside the food system itself in dealing with the multiple impacts of agribusiness (buyers, processors, retailers).

Among the action points proposed by Professor De Schutter with respect to agricultural workers and the right to food are:

  • ratification and implementation by states of all ILO Conventions relevant for the agrifood sector
  • establishing in national law a minimum wage corresponding to a living wage as required by international human rights standard
  • devoting sufficient  resources  to establish compliance with these standards through labour inspectorates in agriculture
  • establishing a legal level of social security protection for agricultural workers equivalent to those applicable to other industries
  • establishing compulsory registries of agricultural workers and the compulsory licensing of labour contractors
  • negotiating international framework agreements with global unions which, to be effective, “should protect the basic rights of workers throughout the whole supply chain, covering not only the direct employees of the transnational corporation, but also those of its suppliers, contract growers or joint venture partners.”

Agribusiness and the Right to Food, which also set out a series of key proposals to protect smallholder producers and advance the realization of their right to food, is available here in English, French and Spanish.