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…)

Protecting civil society against shrinking spaces

By Prof Sir Malcolm Evans, Professor of Public International Law (University of Bristol Law School) and Chair, United Nations Subcommittee for Prevention of Torture.

On Thursday 26th January a debate took place in Parliament* on the ‘shrinking space for civil society’ in international human rights protection. I was recently at a meeting where it was pointed out that this description of the problem – which is much discussed in international circles at the moment – made it sound vaguely as if it was something to do with washing things at the wrong temperature, and meant very little to most people. To the extent that effective human rights protection is based on openness and transparency, which might be summed up in the idea of ‘washing dirty linen in public’, the idea of human rights being ‘shrunk in the wash’ at the moment is not altogether a bad one – but this hardly helps convey the significance of what is taking place and why it matters enough to warrant a debate in Parliament. The reality is that there is something extremely worrying going on in many parts of the world – which is that those who stand up for those in need are themselves increasingly subjected to various forms of attack, including physical attack, for doing so. (more…)

Transparency in public procurement is necessary, but not for all to see

By Dr Vitali Gretschko, Head of the Market Design Research Group (ZEW Mannheim) and
Dr Albert Sanchez-Graells, Senior Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

The airport Berlin-Brandenburg, Stuttgart 21, and the Elbphilharmonie have one thing in common. Irregularities in the procurement process and delays in execution led to immense cost explosions to be covered by taxpayers. Thus, given the risks of corruption, favouritism and misuse of public funds, the award and management of public contracts requires a high level of scrutiny to avoid mismanagement and waste.

Moreover, even when things go well, improvements in public procurement law can have significant effects. Today, over 250 000 public authorities in the EU spend around 14 per cent of the GDP on the purchase of services, works, and supplies. Even small relative efficiency gains through carefully crafted rules can therefore result in savings in the billions. Therefore, the design of procurement rules need to reach a balance between safeguarding economic efficiency through competition and ensuring the proper level of transparency and accountability. (more…)