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Environment

Too Many Agricultural Workers Can't Afford to Eat, UN Says


Why Global Citizens Should Care
One in nine people around the world is malnourished. Many agricultural workers cannot pay for food with their low wages. Hilal Elver, United Nations special reporter on food rights is calling on the government to protect their rights. You can join us in taking action on this issue here.

If you work on a farm, you play an integral role in achieving food security for the world — but not without paying a price. Chances are you’re not being treated fairly, working under dangerous conditions, and can’t afford the food you’re helping produce.

Hilal Elver, the United Nations special reporter on food rights, urged governments to protect agricultural laborers on Wednesday. In an annual dispatch delivered to the UN General Assembly, she said these workers increasingly receive low wages and tend to deal with unprofessional work environments.

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“The full enjoyment of human rights and labor rights for agricultural workers is a necessary precondition for the realization of the right to food,” Elver said. 

Around the world, 795 million people do not have access to enough food to survive, and many of them work in agriculture. Women, children, migrants, and plantation workers, make up one-third of the world’s agricultural workforce — that’s over 1 billion people. Women account for 43% of them, and up to 50% live in sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Asia. 

In developing countries, agriculture is the main source of employment for 50% to 90% of the population, but it can’t even guarantee survival. To make matters worse, food scarcity is only going to increase due to climate change’s negative effect on farming.

Migrant workers are especially vulnerable in the agriculture industry. Even though their work drives the global economy, employers tend to think they don’t have to pay them as much, can assign them longer hours, and don’t have to offer them the same rights as other workers, according to Elver. 

Read More: Climate Change Has Been Linked to 59,300 Farmer Suicides in India, Study Says

Safety is another major issue. Employers are usually focused on increasing food production and maximizing profit, rather than on the well-being of their laborers, Elver said. 

More than 170,000 agricultural workers are killed on the job annually. The odds of getting into a fatal accident are twice as high in food production than in any other industry. This puts 108 million children, who account for more than two-thirds of the child labor workforce, at risk of suffering an injury. Elver said farm workers are often exposed to pesticides, and endure long hours in extreme temperatures without access to water.

“It is time for States to step up, and take swift and urgent action to hold accountable those who commit human rights violations against agricultural workers and to prevent further violations,” Elver said.