Without Rights for Agri-food Workers, EU’S Food Supplies Rest on Shaky Ground

In a joint statement addressed to the key institutions of the European Union, 28 organizations working on human rights, migration, agriculture, environment, and public health assert: “our food supply is at risk, as it greatly depends on unrecognised workers living in uncertain and unsafe conditions.” 

The joint statement, co-signed by Slow Food Europe, highlights that the labor shortages that we are experiencing today due to the new coronavirus and the closure of borders demonstrate how European agriculture depends to a large extent on migrant (and largely undocumented) workers. In fact, migrant workers represent a significant proportion of workers picking our fruits and vegetables as well as packing and processing our food. Beyond issues of food supply, light must be shed on the dramatic labor conditions in the agri-food sector which have been ignored for far too long, and which represent a potential risk for the spread of the pandemic among workers.  

Photo by Rodolfo Clix from Pexels

In Italy, 600.000 undocumented migrants are living on the margin of our society. They must be regularized so that their health and the social stability in Italy are guaranteed. Migrant populations are fundamental, not only to the agricultural sector but also to the care service sector, which includes domestic workers, carers, and babysitters. The role of migrant communities will be especially important in phase 2 of the coronavirus pandemic recovery when most people will go back to their work. Italian mayors are also raising the alarm that if seasonal workers are prevented from arriving and working in the fields, we are running the risk that fruit and vegetables will never be harvested,” says Abderrahmane Amajou, coordinator of Slow Food International’s Migrants Network.

According to Confagricoltura (the confederation representing agricultural Italian enterprises), as much as 200 thousand workers will soon be needed, and agricultural production and livestock are at risk.

Slow Food International is actively working to promote dialogue among migrant communities and nationals and to support cultural exchange and collaboration revolving around food and agriculture. 

Addressing the situation of agrifood workers is a matter of urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the future. Several policy tools including the Common Agricultural Policy and the awaited Farm to Fork Strategy, alongside migration and health policies, will be key to regulating the situation, and guaranteeing the safe working conditions in the agrifood sector by recognizing the core role of migrant workers and communities in European societies. A comprehensive and integrated approach among different policy sectors, i.e. a Common Food Policy, is fundamental to enable a transition to more sustainable food systems to protect people and the environment 

The pandemic is highlighting the vulnerabilities of our food system which heavily relies on industrial agriculture, long specialized chains and foreign and often undocumented migrant workers, who despite their essential role, experience extremely poor working conditions and at times exploitation.  It is time to overhaul our industrialized and impersonal agricultural model, to make it greener and safer with fairer supply chains, adequate prices for both farmers and consumers, and guaranteed labor rights for workers.  

In the joint statement, signatory organizations call on EU Institutions to act upon the following: 

  • Address the situation of agri-food workers as a matter of urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Transform the new CAP to make it both socially and environmentally sustainable. 
  • Include a focus on workers in the Farm to Fork Strategy. 
  • Ensure full access to declared employment for migrant and refugee workers. 
  • Improve the functioning of work permit routes for non-EU migrants to reach Europe and enforce respect for migrant and refugee workers’ rights. 
  • Roll out mandatory EU legislation on human rights and environmental due diligence. 

 

The full statement is available here

Yael Pantzer, Slow Food Europe

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