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aspects of plantations development: the rights and welfare of
Social aspects of plantations development: the rights and welfare of plantations workers
Joint statement by the World Rainforest Movement and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Association to the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests at its third session in Geneva, 9-20 September 1996.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Forests has provided an important opportunity for the international community to take stock of developments in forest policy-making. By encouraging the participation of non-governmental workers and indigenous peoples organizations –in line with the commitments made at Río to involve "Major Groups" in the implementation of Agenda 21- the IPF is promoting a cross-sectoral approach to forest policy-making.
This has enhanced the realization that debates about forests are not just about trees but are also about the welfare of people who live in and depend on forests and forests-based industries.
Our organizations are concerned that emerging international standards and principles relating to the environment should harmonise with and support existing and emerging international standards regarding the welfare of workers, human rights and social justice. We have been encouraged to note that the first two sessions of the IPF have at least opened debate about two important social sectors whose rights are often marginalized in forestry and forest policy-making: namely indigenous peoples and landless peasants. We look forward to further progress being made on these themes in this and next sessions of the IPF.
In this submission we wish to focus attention on another social group, plantation workers, who are among the most ignored of all the social sectors affected by international and national forest policy-making.
The rapid development of plantations has become a major theme in recent forest policy debates. With often questionable logic, planners have emphasised the advantages of expanding plantations to reduce pressure on natural forests, protect watersheds, offset carbon emissions, provide woodfuel and paper-pulp, increase national revenues and profitably use degraded lands. However, the social implications of these proposals have received little consideration.
Yet, according to the International Labour organization (ILO), total plantation wage employment is of the order of 20 million workers, or 2% of the agricultural economically active population in developing countries. Of these between 20 and 50 % are women, the numbers varying widely from country to country. Children are also very involved, making up between 7 and 12 % of the total plantation labour force. In addition, several tens of millions of smallholders are involved in plantations commodity production, although no precise estimate is possible. ILO data suggest that plantation workers have one of the highest incidences of poverty of any agricultural group.
International legal standards evolved through the tri-partite structure of the ILO have clearly defined the rights of plantations workers and the corresponding obligations of employers and governments. Among the most important of these rights are:
To date only 11 countries worldwide have ratified the ILO’s Convention 110 on plantation workers, one of the lowest rates of ratification of any ILO Convention. Corresponding to this lack of protection of their rights, plantation workers are among the poorest and exploited of all agricultural labourers.
Low wages are not the only problems faced by plantations labourers. The ILO notes that, by and large, housing conditions in plantations continue to be characterised by overcrowding and insufficient and poor infrastructure. Medical assistance is poor especially in the lack of provision of preventive health care, sanitation and clean water supplies. Primary education facilities are generally insufficient to enable children to attend school regularly and complete their primary education. Poor safety standards are common particularly with regard to the misuse of agro-chemicals. All these problems are linked to the fact that the rights of plantations workers to organise and collective bargaining are commonly denied. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that, globally, prices for most plantation commodities have progressively declined in real terms in the past decades.
New trends and consequences
Despite the chronic problems faced by plantation workers, despite sluggish growth in international demand and despite falling prices in real terms for plantations commodities (with the notable exception of paper-pulp) and the consequent reduced returns to plantation workers, producer countries have continued to increase output of all major plantation products, in turn contributing to declining world prices.
In recent years, these increases in production have been matched by important changes in production techniques. Governments and international financial institutions have strongly promoted the privatisation of this once heavily government-controlled sector. Foreign direct investment has increased massively, especially in non-traditional crops, such as fruits, vegetables, flowers and wood for paper-pulp and timber. Plantation commodity-marketing has been liberalised and pervasive government controls have been relaxed. Mechanization has increased. Meanwhile, the plantation industry has increasingly divested itself of lands and increased reliance on contract farming.
Unfortunately, these changes have not been matched by corresponding benefits for plantation workers. Wages remain stagnant or have declined in real terms. In the context of a global labour surplus and abundant migrant labour, real wage increases have only come about through government wage determination or collective bargaining.
However, rights to organise and bargain collectively are still denied in many countries and private companies have exploited this lack of protection by maintaining or driving down wages and benefits. Mechanisation has reduced the demand for and hence the bargaining force of labour. Even where commodity prices have risen in real terms, such as in the pulp and paper sector, benefits have rarely been passed on plantations workers. The trend towards the divestment of lands and reliance on contract farming and smallholder nucleus estates has had very varied effects. In some countries, small farmers have been able to benefit, by organising as cooperatives and through effective collective bargaining with processing and exporting industries. In other countries, however, where small-farmers are weakly organised or their rights to organise and bargain collectively are suppressed, companies have been able to increase their profits by shifting onto small-farmers the costs of health, schooling, pension and insurance provisions as well as the risks associated with spoiled crops and injuries.
Policy Implications and Recommendations
Plantation workers constitute a poorly protected and vulnerable social sector whose rights and interests are all too easily overlooked in forest policy-making, at both national and international levels.
Consequently there is an urgent need for renewed efforts to ensure stronger protections for plantation workers and new mechanisms to allow more adequate consideration of their rights and interests in planning. All this has important implications for a number of themes being considered by the IPF.
National forest and land-use planning
Where they have not already done so, member governments need to take immediate steps to ratify and then implement the relevant international instruments relating to plantation workers, including ILO Conventions 87, 98, 110 and 141.
Special provisions should be made to ensure the effective participation of plantation workers’ associations in national forest policy and land use planning.
1.4 Afforestation / 1.5 Countries with low forest cover
These considerations apply equally to programmes of afforestation and in countries with low forest cover.
2. Coordination of bilateral and multilateral assistance
Bilateral donors and multilateral agencies need to revise their forestry assistance programmes to ensure compliance with internationally agreed standards.
Resources need to be mobilised to ensure effective participation of plantations workers’ associations in the national and international policy making.
3.2 Criteria and indicators
National and international efforts to develop appropriate criteria and indicators of sustainable plantation management must embrace the rights and interests of plantation workers.
Recognition of international standards relating to plantation workers should be a criterion of acceptable management, and effective respect for these rights an indicator.
Governments which are leading national and international efforts to establish such C&Is need to review their mechanisms of participation to ensure that plantation workers’ associations are involved in standard setting exercises. Resources need to be mobilized by donor governments to effect such participation.
4. Trade and environment related to forest products and services
The links between trade flows, protected markets, plantation commodity prices and the welfare of plantation workers are very complicated and not well understood. Detailed studies of these connections need to be made before plantation policies are developed, to ensure that the interests of plantation workers are properly taken into account. Special attention should be paid to the promotion of small-scale plantations under local control.
5.1 International forest policy-making
In reviewing existing international organizations, multilateral institutions and instruments, critical attention needs to be given to the activities of organizations promoting plantations and smallholder nucleus estate programmes. Reviews need to be carried out to assess the extent to which these initiatives have adhered to the above mentioned international standards regarding plantation workers.
5.2 International forest policy-making
Future international efforts under the IPF and CSD, and subsequent bodies, to develop international principles and standards on forests must make better provisions to ensure a consideration of the rights and interest of plantations workers.
This joint statement of the World Rainforest Movement and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotels, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers associations has been endorsed by the following organizations:
Instituto del Tercer Mundo, Uruguay
Japan Tropical Forest Action Network
Third World Network, Africa
Centre pour l’environnement et le developpement, Cameroon
The Ecologist, England
Acción Ecológica, Ecuador
Project for Ecological Recovery, Thailand
Amerindian Peoples Association, Guyana
Both Ends, Netherlands
Bank Information Center, USA
Rainforest Action Network
International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs, Denmark
Retter den Regenwald, Germany
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