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Challenging the Food and Agriculture Industry

The global food and agriculture industry is essential to global employment, culture, environment, conservation, peace, stability, and nutrition. A third of the working population worldwide is involved in agriculture. But work in the food and agriculture sector is often harsh, dangerous, underpaid, and precarious.

Through research and advocacy with partners and networks worldwide, SOMO is pushing for company and government policies that foster equitable and sustainable food production and consumption.

Our interventions in the food and agriculture industry span various topics, including sustainability certification and corporate purchasing policies and their impacts. To promote fairer global food supply chains, we also address unfair trading practices, market concentration, speculation and uneven value distribution, the right to food, and land conflicts.

Highlighted Publications

Unsustainable food industry practices and impacts on the climate

The food and agriculture industry has considerable adverse effects on ecology, climate, and biodiversity due to various food production, distribution, and consumption practices.

Among unsustainable food practices, livestock farming significantly contributes to environmental degradation and impacts on workers and communities. The global meat industry is responsible for 14.5 per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

To address these issues, we are conducting research and investigations into the business model of the big meat industry. Our efforts support policy advocacy to push for better and stricter regulations that can weaken the detrimental pillars of the industry.

Our work at SOMO aims to promote policy changes that compel meat industries to adopt more sustainable food practices. This shift involves prioritising factors beyond profits and benefits for shareholders. Instead, the focus lies on making adequate investments in various currently under-resourced aspects, such as improving labour conditions and animal welfare, significantly reducing GHG emissions, and discontinuing tax avoidance, deforestation, and the use of pesticide-laden feed.

By advocating for these changes, we seek to create a meat industry that operates in an environmentally responsible and socially conscious manner.

For transparent supply chains

EU supply chains are riddled with human rights violations, land grabs, deforestation, pollution, and adverse biodiversity and climate impacts. We are pushing for regulation, policies, and practices that ensure decent work and sustainability – including legally enforceable corporate accountability mechanisms, and a leading role for workers in monitoring and improving workplace conditions.

Global food and agriculture supply chains challenges

The global food supply chains face severe challenges, including human rights violations, land grabs, deforestation, pollution, and detrimental impacts on biodiversity and the climate.

EU companies have direct connections to harmful practices such as deforestation, fraud, modern slavery, and land grabs through their imports, particularly when it comes to Brazilian meat. Additionally, they are involved in the illicit trade of tropical timber from Myanmar and products sanctioned by Russia, among other concerning activities. These issues have raised significant concerns about the ethical and sustainable practices of the EU’s supply chains. Urgent action is required to address these pressing problems.

In the Netherlands, many supermarkets hold significant control over food sales. Known as the Big Five, these supermarkets dominate 78 per cent of the grocery market, granting them the power to dictate favourable terms and conditions when dealing with producers. By exerting pressure on prices, these supermarkets play a significant role in influencing the conditions under which food is grown and produced. Unfortunately, studies reveal that this dynamic leads to unethical trading practices, creates downward pressure on prices, and has detrimental effects on suppliers, workers, and consumers.

We have been researching supermarket supply chains for over two decades. Our recent investigations into the supply chains for green beans from Morocco, orange juice from Brazil, sugar from Malawi, and wine from South Africa have shed light on unacceptable living and working conditions within these systems.

  • Infographic private label wines from South Africa (jpg, 305.69 KB)
Tea plantation in Kericho, Kenya

In 2021, research conducted by SOMO, the Belgian NGO FOS, and the Bolivian organisation CIPCA highlighted numerous issues with the working conditions in the Brazilian nut sector. Addressing and improving the working conditions in this relatively small sector could lead to a sustainable and equitable Brazilian nut supply chain.

We strive to promote equitable and sustainable food production and consumption by conducting extensive research, engaging in advocacy efforts, and collaborating with partners and networks globally. Our collective actions target companies and governments as we work towards implementing policies that support fair and environmentally responsible practices in the food industry.

Union Customs Code and EU food trade agreements

The Union Customs Code (UCC)(opens in new window) is the legal framework governing European Union customs procedures and regulations. It sets the rules and policies for moving goods into and within the EU’s customs territory.

As part of its public consultation on Reforms of the Union Customs legislation, the European Commission sought input on whether customs rules and processes can play a role in combatting forced labour, guaranteeing human rights and environmental due diligence throughout supply chains, and promoting EU values on an international scale. The Union Customs legislation has the potential to make a significant contribution in these areas.

However, to effectively achieve this, the legislation must incorporate essential provisions that enable non-state actors to access comprehensive trade information typically held by customs authorities.

SOMO and 55 other civil society organisations and trade unions jointly composed an open letter to the European Commission regarding the ongoing revision of the Union Customs Code (UCC). In this letter, we urged the Commission to ensure that non-state actors are granted access to customs trade information.

By facilitating broader public access to trade information through customs channels, stakeholders will be empowered to actively engage with and monitor company operations while also providing support to competent authorities that are responsible for enforcing relevant regulatory requirements.

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