Demands: What needs to happen to make change

© Paulo Fridman Corbis / GettyImages
Reducing human and labour rights violations relating to the production and trade of agricultural commodities is above all else a question of ensuring just relations of power. This holds true for the governance of the entire agro-food sector as much as it does for individual value chains. Unfortunately, too little emphasis has so far been placed on designing solutions based on the premise of power asymmetry. Switzerland as a home to many of the globally significant agricultural commodity traders has a decisive role to play in ensuring more just relations of power in global agro-food value chains.

To protect and guarantee the rights of small-scale producers and workers, national and international policies must be shaped in a way that increasingly reflects their interests. This means strengthening the bargaining power of the most vulnerable groups, including rural communities, and developing solutions to curb the concentration and abuse of power by dominant actors along global value chains.

Home states such as Switzerland have a central role to play when it comes to ensuring power is distributed more justly and is not abused along global value chains. Switzerland can ensure that there is sufficient transparency in the commodity trading sector as well as instituting mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence that covers high risk activities and ensures respect for human rights. Moreover, to contain the concentration processes in the global agro-food sector, there is also a need for more effective and far-reaching competition policies.

Agricultural commodity traders as global value chain managers also have a significant role to play in affecting change. This ultimately entails a fundamental shift in the relations between traders and people working in production. The former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, proposes seven principles in order to ensure more just business relationships:

  1. Long-term economic viability for all parties and participation of producers to ensure business relationships reflect their needs;
  2. Gender equality;
  3. Clear and transparent pricing mechanisms that guarantee production costs and ensure a living income/wage;
  4. Clear and specific agreements regarding the quality of crops that minimize the risk of buyers manipulating such standards;
  5. Promotion of agro-ecological forms of production including the provision of adequate knowledge as well as biological inputs generated on-farm;
  6. Appropriate structures that facilitate communication as well as the resolution of disputes;
  7. Encouraging farmer organisation by means of cooperatives, farmer associations or collectives.

Agricultural traders have a responsibility to shape their supply chains according to these principles, and they are in a position to do so. This would be an essential step in ensuring the fundamental human right to an adequate standard of living. To this end, transparency regarding their business activities and relationships, pricing schemes, as well as financial data, is a central regulatory requirement and would constitute a decisive first step.

© Fabio Erdos

Public Eye issues the following demands

Swiss Government and Parliament must:

  • Ensure transparency in the commodity trading sector in Switzerland, especially by regularly publishing relevant and comprehensive statistical data on the sector;
  • Ensure through regulation that Swiss-based commodity traders implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and in particular Human Rights Due Diligence, as outlined in the Swiss Commodity Trading Sector Guidance and the OECD-FAO Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains;
  • Ensure that Swiss-based non-state actors such as agricultural commodity traders respect and strengthen internationally recognised human rights, giving particular attention to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP)
  • Take all necessary measures to disseminate and promote the UNDROP and recognise the importance of international cooperation in its implementation;
  • Improve and guarantee access to judicial and non-judicial remedy mechanisms in Switzerland for victims of corporate misconduct by Swiss-based agricultural commodity traders;
  • Ensure that the negative consequences of market concentration and abuse of market power by Swiss-based agricultural traders along the vertical dimension of global value chains are reflected in competition policies and practice, and improve cross-border collaboration between national competition authorities;
  • Ensure policy coherence between human rights, foreign, and trade policies by ensuring the latter two guarantee the protection, fulfilment, and respect for human rights.

Swiss agricultural traders and industry associations must:

  • Ensure transparency regarding their business activities in and from Switzerland, their market shares as well as financial transparency, in particular regarding taxes;
  • Commit to and implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, especially Human Rights Due Diligence, as outlined in the Swiss Guidance for the Commodity Trading Sector and the OECD-FAO Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains;
  • Recognise and commit to ensuring internationally recognised human rights, especially the rights granted under the newly established UNDROP, with a particular emphasis on ensuring an adequate standard of living;
  • Implement the seven principles of just business relationships between agro-food companies and agricultural producers as identified by former UN Special Rapporteur Olivier de Schutter;
  • Commit to establishing mechanisms guaranteeing access to remedy for victims of corporate misconduct.