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"EU migration policy causes deaths instead of saving lives" La Via Campesina in Nador, Morocco

By staff - La Via Campesina, July 21, 2023

La Via Campesina has launched a powerful message of denunciation of the murder of thousands of people in the Mediterranean.

During the V Maghreb Social Forum on Migration (Nador, June 20-23), it warned of the serious violation of human rights promoted by the European Union through its migration policy, which follows the guidelines of the Global Compact for Safe and Orderly Migration, signed by several states five years ago in Marrakech.

Life inside an MST landless workers’ settlement in Brazil

La Via Campesina delivers a fiery speech inside the European Parliament, calls out Free Trade Agreements, Colonialism and Unilateral Sanctions

“When UNDROP was adopted in 2018, Canada abstained but the country among the first to use it in a case on migrant workers’ rights”

By Jessie MacInnis - La Via Campesina, July 11, 2023

When the UNDROP was adopted at the United Nations General Assembly in December 2018, Canada abstained. Despite that, Canada is one of the first places where UNDROP has been explicitly cited by a provincial court in a case related to migrant workers’ rights. Jessie MacInnis explains for us the dynamics at play in Canada on Peasants’ Rights and the importance of case law.

First, to give us some context, could you describe us the general landscape of agriculture in Canada?

Agricultural policies have increasingly tied agriculture to a corporate system in Canada. Recent examples relate to the reduction of government oversight of seeds and gene-edited plants. The Canadian government has put its faith in agribusiness and biotech corporations instead of science and public interest. It’s very scary for farmers, especially for organic farmers, such as myself, who may suffer financial, health, and ecological implications from increasing corporate capture of seeds and the gutting of publicly-funded seed research and development.

COVID-19 has shown the cracks and deep rooted inequities that keep land inaccessible, rural communities gutted of resources, and farmers indebted and dependent on the companies selling inputs and chemicals. It also showed the dependence on a constant supply of migrant workers who suffer from human rights abuses. Yet it has been a time of enormous profit increases for corporations in the sector. On top of that we have the climate crisis and the income crisis, with income that have been stagnant for years and many farmers relying on off-farm work to make ends meet. Agriculture policies are beginning to wake up to the realities of the climate crisis, with more funding available for on-farm climate adaptation, but the income crisis is still prevalent for small-scale and family farms, which are the backbone of the food system.

Ƒinally, If we talk about agriculture in Canada, we have to acknowledge that it is built on settler colonization and stolen land. The National Farmers Union (NFU) is engaging in conversations between farmers and Indigenous Peoples, conversations about land equity, land back, and food sovereignty, but it’s just the beginning. Our agriculture is built on colonial violence that still hasn’t been reconciled. Farmers have a critical role to play in both acknowledging our relationship to the land and finding pathways forward towards living in right relations with Indigenous Peoples.

In this agricultural landscape we have a plurality of perspectives with regards to how agriculture policies should be developed, and whose goals it seeks to achieve. Some of the bigger agriculture organizations definitively may have historically had more sway with policymakers, but the NFU and other food sovereignty activists are gaining ground, especially at local and regional levels.

In 2020, Ontario Superior Court of Justice released a decision based on UNDROP in defense of a group of migrant farm workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us more on this decision?

This case shows the legal potential of the UNDROP, I think legal action is one pathway for countries who have not approved the Declaration at the United Nations to incorporate its articles and set legal precedents.

In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic the Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights used Article 23 of UNDROP in a provincial court in defense of a group of migrant workers facing dangerous, overcrowded living conditions.

To give some context, Canadian farms employ nearly half a million agricultural workers through a federal program. This program has been riddled with accusations of human rights violations over the years: poor living conditions, low wages and no pathways to permanent residency. At the same time, Canada is dependent on their labour to ensure the food supply.

In March 2020, just after the state of emergency was announced, the federal government mandated a 14-days isolation period for all temporary foreign workers entering Canada, at the same time ensuring workers subjected to isolation in groups would have at least 2 meters per person at all time and limiting the numbers of workers living together in a lodging.

When this policy was mandated, a major industrial farm in Ontario (central Canada) that employs migrant workers, submitted two inadequate self-isolation plans before requesting a hearing regarding the public health order limiting the numbers of farm workers in one lodging. At the hearing the farm argued that the requirement of three farm workers per lodging was arbitrary and failed to recognize the significance of migrant farm workers to Canada food supply. They argued they had not been able to bring in as many migrants as they would normally, and this jeopardized their food production.

The Superior Court of Justice of Ontario responded by saying that: “decreasing health inequities as required under the guidelines requires that the number of workers that are allowed to isolate together is such that the risk posed to their health is comparable to the rest of the population when they’re quarantined. Allowing larger numbers to isolate together exposes migrants farm workers to a level of risk not tolerated for others in the community, thereby increasing vulnerability of an already vulnerable group.

In reaching this outcome, the Court cited the UNDROP for the first time in Canada. The way they cited it is important: “…furthermore the UNDROP is part of the body of HR laws and norms to which Canadian adjudicators may look in interpreting statutory or common-law obligations and in reviewing administrative decisions.”. They cited article 23.1, which states: “Peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”.

So the context and the outcome of the case is demonstrative of the applicability of the Declaration in the Canadian context. Promoting this case is something we need to keep doing. It’s strategic to expand the network of human rights lawyers that are aware of UNDROP and to give them this as an example.

Debt, Migration, and Exploitation: The Seasonal Worker Visa and the Degradation of Working Conditions in UK Horticulture

By Catherine McAndrew, Oliver Fisher, Clark McAllister, and Christian Jaccarini - Landworkers Alliance, et. al., July 10, 2023

The report ‘Debt, Migration and Exploitation: The Seasonal Worker Visa and the Degradation of Working Conditions in UK Horticulture’ has been written in collaboration with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, New Economics Foundation, Focus on Labour Exploitation, Sustain and a farmer solidarity network of former migrant seasonal workers.

Seasonal work plays a significant role in UK agriculture. The government estimates that between 50,000 and 60,000 seasonal workers are needed annually to bring in the wider harvest across the UK, and these workers are almost entirely recruited from outside the UK.

Many of these workers are recruited via the new Seasonal Worker Visa scheme, a temporary migration programme introduced in 2019 to alleviate post-Brexit labour shortages, but a series of recent media exposés have revealed that visa holders are facing mounting issues including low wages, wage theft, excessive hours, debt bondage, and abuse by supervisors.

Our new report adds to this mounting body of evidence, and lays bare the legal and economic structures that facilitate the exploitation of farmworkers by the industrial food system, giving a platform for farmworkers to share their own account of life on the UK’s farms and develop solutions to the abuses they have faced.

The report also includes a supply chain analysis carried out by the New Economics Foundation, which reveals that migrant seasonal workers picking soft fruit retain on average just 7.6% of the total retail price of the produce.

Furthermore, the report outlines how workers who have to pay illegal broker fees (money paid by migrant workers to recruitment agencies in their home countries) can result in negative earnings. This means that after accommodation, subsistence and travel costs, some workers are essentially left out of pocket and end up paying more to come to the UK and work, than they keep as retained income to take home.

Another chapter in the report features an extended testimony from a former migrant seasonal worker from Nepal, in which they describe the exploitation of recruitment agencies, the debt associated with taking out loans to pay for agency fees and the need for the UK Government to design a more safe and secure seasonal visa scheme.

In response to issues raised in previous chapters relating to the supply chain, workers’ rights violations, and lack of redress, the final section of the report explores alternative approaches to labour rights, based on worker-led social responsibility (WSR), using the experience of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Fair Food Program (FFP) in Florida as a case study.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

UNDROP Alive and Kicking: Zainal Arafin Fuad - SPI - Indonesia

UNDROP Alive and Kicking: Ramona Dominiciou - Ecoruralis - Romania

UNDROP Alive and Kicking: Jessie MacInnis – NFU – Canada

UNDROP Alive and Kicking: David Otieno - Kenyan Peasants League - Kenya

UNDROP Alive and Kicking: Pramesh Pokharel - All Nepal Peasant's Federation - Nepal

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