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Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter
Agribusiness and the right to food
22 December 2009

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) as the source of this document


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Summary

This report examines the role of commodity buyers, food processors and retailers in the realization of the right to food. These actors play a key role, as they connect producers to consumers, and as they transform raw commodities into edible food. But the vast majority of those who are hungry in the world today are part of the food system; small independent food producers or waged agricultural workers working on farms in the formal or informal sector represent over half of the billion who go hungry today. The report therefore asks how the sourcing, pricing, and wages policies of commodity buyers, food processors and retailers impact the right to food. The report seeks to contribute to a better understanding, by agribusiness corporations and States alike, of their respective responsibilities and obligations under international law. It ends with 10 recommendations to States and the agribusiness sector to ensure that the current transformation of the food chain will contribute to the realization of the right to food. The recommendations relate to a range of areas, including codes of conduct and international framework agreements, cooperatives, marketing boards, public procurement, and competition law.
  1. This is the second annual report to the Human Rights Council of Olivier De Schutter as Special Rapporteur on the right to food, as requested in Council resolution 10/12.

  2. In a report presented to the Human Rights Council at its eighth session, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises proposed a framework outlining the human rights responsibilities and obligations of the business community and of States, respectively, in relation to corporate-related human rights issues. Based on an overview of human rights violations linked to the activities of corporations, he proposed a framework relying on three principles. First, States have an obligation to protect human rights, comprising at a minimum “a duty to protect against human rights abuses by non-State actors, including by business, affecting persons within their territory or jurisdiction”. Second, companies have a responsibility to respect all human rights: “Because companies can affect virtually all internationally recognized rights, they should consider the responsibility to respect in relation to all such rights.” In order to meet their responsibility to respect, companies must undertake an ongoing process of human rights due diligence whereby they become aware of, prevent, and mitigate adverse human rights impacts: companies should “not only ensure compliance with national laws but also manage the risk of human rights harm with a view to avoiding it”. Third and finally, “effective grievance mechanisms play an important role in the State duty to protect, in both its legal and policy dimensions, as well as in the corporate responsibility to respect”.

  3. In this report, the Special Rapporteur examines the role of commodity buyers, food processors, and retailers in the realization of the right to food. These actors are referred to collectively as the “agribusiness sector”. They link producers to consumers. Without them, producers would have only very limited access to markets and the choices available to consumers would be vastly more limited. It is through market mechanisms that, for the most part, the right to food is satisfied, yet the sourcing, pricing, and wage policies of commodity buyers, food processors and retailers have a huge and sometimes negative impact on the right to food. The main objective of this report is to contribute to a better understanding, by agribusiness corporations and States alike, of their different but complementary responsibilities under international law, in the light of these impacts.

  4. This report focuses on political economy issues that arise in the food chain, and on the relationships between the agribusiness corporations on the one hand, and their suppliers on the other, looking specifically at two vulnerable groups: agricultural workers and smallholder farmers. A number of issues have been left out of this report, due to space limitations. These include the environmental and nutritional dimensions of the practices of agribusiness corporations (i.e., how they could encourage sustainable agriculture and promote diverse, nutritious and balanced diets), and the impact of pricing policies on consumers. However, the Special Rapporteur intends to return to these other issues in his future work. Nor does this report address a number of situations in which the activities of private corporations can have an impact on the right to food, for instance when large-scale development projects deprive communities of their access to productive resources, or when they sell to farmers. An addendum to this report (A/HRC/13/33/Add.1) presents the work of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of large-scale land acquisitions or leases.

  5. This report builds on the work of the previous Special Rapporteur on this issue. For its preparation, the Special Rapporteur has benefited from his participation in the International Labour Organization (ILO) Tripartite Technical Workshop on the Global Food Price Crisis and Its Impact on Decent Work held in Geneva on 6 March 2009, and from other contacts with the ILO, as well as with the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF). He also commissioned contributions and convened a multi-stakeholder consultation in Berlin on 19–20 June 2009, hosted by the non-governmental organization European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and supported by the German Government. He had exchanges with a number of agribusiness corporations, both bilaterally and through the Consumer Goods Forum, a global network of retailers and manufacturers covering over 150 countries.

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