Shining a Light on Labor: How Food Policy Councils Can Support Food Chain Workers

09 August 2018

Food Policy Councils (or local food partnerships) can play a role in raising awareness of the issues faced by people working in the food system.

The John Hopkins Centre for a Livable Future's new guide outlines why and how Food Policy Councils are well-positioned to advocate for food chain workers by delving into four main issue areas: wages, healthcare, worker safety, and paid sick leave. It highlights illustrative examples of successes and challenges that FPCs have experienced while engaging in labour policy. It also includes a list of key action steps that FPCs can take to support food chain workers.

Despite the US-based nature of the case studies, there is a lot to learn for UK local food partnerships and the recommended key actions are transferable to the workings of UK partnerships.

1. Host an educational session among FPC members:

Create a space for your members to talk with and learn from diverse voices, including workers and business owners, representing various perspectives on food labour issues. This may reduce conflict and avoid alienating some of your council’s membership when tackling labour issues.

2. Talk about labour as part of awareness campaigns:

While educating the public about the food system or disparities in food access, include discussions about how labour is a part of the food system. Improving the visibility of food workers can help institutional buyers and consumers make more informed choices about where they buy food. You can screen films about labour, such as The Hand that Feeds or Food Chains. You could also organize a panel of speakers to discuss labour conditions and laws in your region.

3. Include labour as a priority in your strategic plan or mission statement:

Only six (~2%) FPCs in the Food Policy Networks list labour among their top three priorities according to the 2018 annual survey of FPCs.

4. Invite representatives who are active in improving labour conditions onto your council:

Provide labour with a seat on the council by inviting food chain workers or people who are active in improving labour conditions to join your FPC.

5. Create a working group that focuses on labour issues:

Assemble members interested in labour issues into a working group. The group can connect labour issues to your other council priorities, and propose new initiatives related to labour.

6. Partner with academic institutions to research how labour policies would affect local businesses and local food workers:

It will be easier to advocate for a certain policy if you understand how it might affect your larger local or regional economy. The USDA local food systems toolkit is a great place to start to assess your local food economy.

7. Support a partner campaign that works on labour issues:

We have suggested several national organizations throughout this guide that concentrate on different labour issues from wages to healthcare. You could also support a partner campaign that works on food labour issues more generally, such as the Food Chain Workers Alliance.

8. Submit a resolution to support a labour policy that affects food chain workers:

Write a letter to your local or state legislature in support of policies that affect food chain workers. States and municipalities can mandate higher wages and greater benefits over federal minimums.

9. Incorporate fair labour standards into procurement policies:

Encourage the inclusion of fair labour standards when working to increase local and sustainable food purchasing by schools, hospitals, government agencies, and other institutions.

10. Understand current and potential state policies, such as preemption, that can affect local policies:

Many localities (and states) have successfully passed stronger labour policies than state (and federal) minimums. Some states, however, have passed or are working to pass laws that prevent (“preempt”) local control over a variety of issues, including many issues that concern FPCs. For example, some states have passed laws prohibiting localities from requiring paid sick leave or raising the minimum wage. Make sure to understand preemptive laws in your state in order to determine where to focus your efforts, and partner with other organizations to prevent or overturn the adoption of these preemptive laws.  

Read the full report Shining a Light on Labor: How Food Policy Councils Can Support Food Chain Workers


Leon Ballin
Sustainable Food Cities

Sustainable Food Cities is a partnership programme run by

Soil Association

Food Matters

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation
Sustainable Food Cities is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation 

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