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Notes and Renderings

A Growing Problem: Hungry Farmworkers

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CarrotA briefing paper written by members of Law Students for Human Rights and solicited by Olivier De Schutter, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food and former Hauser Global Visiting Professor, became recommended reading at an international conference held in June.

Aaron Bloom ’11, Colleen Duffy ’11, Monica Iyer ’10, Aaron Jacobs-Smith ’11, and Laura Moy ’11 spent seven months analyzing the interplay of commodity traders, food processors, global retailers, and fast-food companies to investigate the role played by transnational corporations in the global food supply chain. The research, supervised by Lama Fakih ’08, a fellow at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, and Professor Smita Narula, CHRGJ faculty director and legal adviser to De Schutter’s U.N. mandate, indicated that a shrinking number of large traders control a growing proportion of the supply chain; their demand for cheap, uniform food products pressures poor, small-scale farmers who lack the clout to contest low compensation. As a result, farmers must reduce the wages of their laborers, adversely affecting workers’ right to food. The first sentence of the paper puts it starkly: “It is both ironic and tragic that 80 percent of the world’s hungry are food producers.”

The two-day June meeting was the first of several planned this year that will culminate in a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Participants representing agribusiness, farmers, agricultural workers, and NGOs as well as academic experts received a synopsis of the students’ paper as one of three documents that formed the basis for discussion. “I really hope that what we created was a foundation for a good conversation there,” Iyer, the project leader, said, “and that people who were coming to the conference learned from it and were able to build from that toward actually finding solutions.”

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