Conclusions from the Workshop on Labour Behind the Food System

On June 14th 2019, a group of academics, union representatives, civil society organisers, and members of food-related NGOs and think tanks gathered in Bristol along with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Professor Hilal Elver. The intention was to look closely at the condition of work and workers behind the UK food system. Throughout the day, we shared testimonies, experiences and accounts concerning the main challenges and obstacles faced by workers from farm to fork, including beyond the boundaries of the United Kingdom. We discussed trafficking, modern slavery, low wages, availability, technological innovation, migration, and several other issues that affect and characterize the life and the future of people who make our food possible. We have closely followed the ongoing conversations around the UK Food Strategy, including a consultation that opened just last week, along with the parliamentary debate around the Agricultural Bill and the proposals on the new post-CAP domestic settlement for agriculture. We have also been particularly attentive to the increase in household food insecurity in the country, in particular among farmworkers, farmers and workers within the food sector. It is striking that hunger, obesity and malnutrition are increasingly felt among those who produce and transform food.

In light of our research, experiences and conversations, we have listed below some of the main conclusions arising from our workshop. There is no food without labour, and because a healthy and justly rewarded workforce is essential to a sustainable food system, we consider that these elements should inform the whole process of the UK food strategy. When it comes to labour, the future of food is not only about a skilled workforce that knows how to use technology. It is about: an integrated approach and greater coordination within the food system; attention to the bottlenecks; a broad notion of food workers; intersectionality; transparency and visibility; protection, respect and fulfilment of the workers’ human and labour rights; access to justice and reliable enforcement;  and  fair access and use of technological innovation. (more…)

Closing the Gaps: Health and Safety in the Home

By Dave Cowan, Professor of Law and Policy (University of Bristol Law School).

Following a commission from Shelter, the housing charity, Dave Cowan and Edward Burtonshaw-Gunn, University of Bristol Law School, and Helen Carr and Ed Kirton-Darling, University of Kent Law School, conducted research into the law and practice around housing standards.  Their conclusions – which draw on 940 responses to a questionnaire from professionals, landlords and occupiers – make for stark reading about the deficiencies in our current law.  This is the Executive Summary to the report.  The full report can be found at http://www.bristol.ac.uk/law/research/grenfell/.

The law relating to health and safety in people’s homes is piecemeal, out-dated, complex, dependent upon tenure, and patchily enforced. It makes obscure distinctions, which have little relationship with everyday experiences of poor conditions. Tenants wanting to remedy defects face numerous and often insurmountable barriers to justice. The law needs to evolve; no longer should occupiers be treated as posing health and safety risks; instead they should be treated as consumers of housing with enforceable rights to ensure minimum standards are adhered to. The state needs to accept its role as the primary enforcer of those standards.

Not only does the law require reform, there also needs to be a cultural change, so that those responsible for the health and safety of occupiers become pro-active in fulfilling those responsibilities.

We recommend a new Housing (Health and Safety in the Home) Act which is tenure neutral, modern and relevant to contemporary health and safety issues, and which encourages and provides resources for pro-activity by statutory authorities. In particular, the Act should

  • Strengthen duties on local authorities to review housing and enforce housing health and safety standards
  • Introduce a legal duty to review and update all guidance relating to health and safety in the home every three years
  • Provide routes for occupiers to require local authorities to carry out housing health and safety assessments
  • Remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing enforcement action being taken against local authority landlords and remove unnecessary procedural barriers which undermine the current regime
  • Consolidate and up-date existing law
  • Place clear responsibilities on bodies for breaches of fire and building regulations
  • Provide routes for occupiers to hold landlords and managers to account for fire safety provisions
  • Strengthen remedies against retaliatory eviction

Such an Act, either working alongside or incorporating a Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, would not only improve health and safety outcomes for occupiers, it would signify also that, as a society, we accept responsibility for those standards.