Human Rights and Our Food System: Who produces your food?
It’s another Blog Action Day! All over the world today, people are writing from their unique perspectives about one specific topic. This year’s Blog Action Day prompt is human rights, and I think this is an important part of talking about our sustainable food system.
We tend to focus on how the foods we choose impact the planet, but just as important is how those food choices impact the human rights of food workers. Farm workers are some of the most exploited people on the planet. They perform back-breaking labor for meager pay and often work under dangerous conditions. Our food choices directly impact human rights in so many ways.
Here are some examples of how food workers are mistreated:
- Bananas!* – This documentary dives into how banana-producer Dole is poisoning its workers with pesticides.
- Farm workers in California’s Central Valley sometimes die of heat stroke, and this seems like business as usual.
- Do you buy your tomatoes at Publix? The chain continues to resist a one cent per pound price increase that would vastly improve farm worker pay.
- Chocolate production is notorious for using child labor.
- Female farm workers routinely have to cope with sexual harassment and even sexual assault from employers and male coworkers.
- Fast food workers are battling with parent companies for better wages.
Are you getting a little bit bummed out? It’s not all bad! There is some good news when it comes to our food system:
- Farm workers are beginning to organize and demand better pay and improved working conditions.
- Publix may be holding out, but other chains like Trader Joe’s and even Taco Bell have agreed to pay tomato workers the extra penny per pound that they have been asking for.
- Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal recently awarded its first ever ruling in favor of a farm worker. The ruling will impact workers across Canada.
- Quinoa has gotten a bad rap for its effects on local populations, but it turns out that quinoa production is good for Bolivian farmers.
- Potato workers in Florida won a case against an operation that was exploiting homeless, drug-addicted men.
- Not all fast food chains pay their workers poverty level wages.
Human Rights: Making Ethical Food Choices
The lists above highlight just a few examples of how the food we eat impacts human rights. Just like with any product, when we are shopping for food, it’s important to ask ourselves where it came from, who produced it, and under what conditions. We have a lot of power as consumers. Every food dollar you spend is a vote.
Buying local food from farmers markets or a CSA is one way to support human rights for farm workers and to support your local community. You can often even visit the farms you’re buying from to see their operation first hand. I volunteer with the CSA that delivers my vegetable baskets, and the owner was kind enough to take me on a ride-along to the farms. It was so heartening to see happy people digging in the dirt and meet the folks who planted, grew, and harvested the food that my family eats.
Of course, it may not be feasible to buy everything you eat locally. When you can’t buy local, choosing fair trade food is another simple way to vote with your wallet for human rights. In order to be eligible for Fair Trade foods “come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated. [They] help farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities.”
Not all producers that use Fair Trade (or better) practices can pony up for the pricey certification or hasn’t gotten the money or paperwork together yet. A good example is one of my favorite chocolate companies: Chocolove. They are not Fair Trade certified, but the company website talks about how they source their chocolate.
If something you like to buy doesn’t have the certification, check out the company website. Can’t find the story on their site? Send them an email! Companies take customer inquiries seriously. If they’re getting questions about their labor practices, they may be inspired to clean up their acts!
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo via USDA