Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Agribusiness and the right to food

“Agribusiness can play a key role in realizing the right to food. But States have to give more support to their small producers and push corporations to change their pricing and standards policies”, said the UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, as he presented his second annual report to the UN Human Rights Council on 5 March 2010. His report concludes that in an increasingly globalized food sector dominated by large transnational corporations, smallholders have a very limited number of buyers, and are in a deeply unequal bargaining position in respect of a fair price for their crops. In these circumstances, sourcing and pricing policies of commodity buyers have a huge and sometimes negative impact on the right to food. This situation partly explains why smallholders in developing countries are the single most important group of those suffering hunger in the world today.

To address this situation and the specific needs of smallholders, the Special Rapporteur makes a series of recommendations to the agribusiness corporations and the States. According to the report, States have a number of tools they could use to strengthen the position of smallholders and allow them to reap a larger proportion of the food dollar in their transactions with buyers. In particular, De Schutter said “States could support the establishment of farmers’ cooperatives through appropriate legal frameworks, capacity building programs or tax incentives, thus enhancing the capacity of small producers to obtain higher prices when they seek to sell their produce. These organizations present many advantages in terms of services and information, and help the producers to implement the increasingly complex norms and requirements of buyers and public authorities active on regional and global food markets.

The UN Special Rapporteur also called on States to act against unfair practices of corporations, excessive concentration in the food chain, or abuses of dominant position acquired by certain actors. National competition laws play a fundamental role here. “Competition law as it currently stands is not appropriately tailored to the circumstances that weaken the bargaining position of smallholders”, he explained. “States where suppliers are based should extend the reach of their competition laws to foreign buyers whose abuses affect national sellers, developing regional responses if they are concerned about being vulnerable as a small economy.”

Noting that the pressure to produce at low prices was increasing on suppliers, leading to repress wages of agricultural workers and to the casualization of this workforce, the Special Rapporteur also made a number of recommendations on this issue. States must establish a clear legal framework with robust enforcement mechanisms. But in addition employers have a responsibility to respect the right to food, even where laws are insufficiently protective of agricultural workers or where the existing labour legislation is inadequately monitored: agribusiness companies must not contribute, directly or indirectly, to human rights abuses through their relationship with suppliers.

Please find the full report >>> here.

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