The labour relations of contract farming

In the four contract-farming cases, there is silence on arrangements to negotiate prices of inputs and produce, the wages of casual and permanent labour, the wage gap between women and men, working hours and leave periods among others. In many of the communities where agribusiness firms engage with contract farmers, the predominant practice is the use of informal labour practices (e.g. piecework on farms). For instance, communities have standard labour charges per task, charges per task for specific crops and charges per type of labour contract which is used as the gold standard. Thus, by-day labourers spraying a farm are aware of the amount they will receive as wages. Similarly, there is a standard rate for weeding an acre of land in ever)' community. The pay gap between women and men is also embedded in the informal wage structure in these communities and contract farmers do not deviate from such wage structures.

Contract farming is based on agreements about supply of inputs and outputs between agribusiness firms and contract farmers. However, family and hired labour are an integral aspect of the production system that makes contract farming possible. In this connection, one of the main criticisms of contract farming is that one individual (for instance, the male household head) keeps a large share of the revenue earned from the sale of produce to the agribusiness firm. Thus, concerns about the welfare of contract farmers should consider the terms and conditions of family and hired labour. For example, the Fair-Trade regulations on fair wages, as applied by Serendipalm Limited, are limited to the company’s relations with contract farmers and its wage workers, and do not apply to the hired and family labour used by contract farmers.

Enforcement of clearly stated regulations regarding the use of children and pregnant women as labour is determined by power relations between contract farmers and family or hired labour. For instance, some farmers are unhappy about Serendipalm’s attempt to dictate labour use on their farms. In a focus group discussion with some farmers in March 2017, some participants asked, “how is it Serendipalm’s concern if my pregnant wife helps me on the farm?” Others quizzed “didn’t we work as children on our parents’ farms? Why are they [Serendipalm] telling us not to go to farm with our children when labour costs are so high?” (DEMETER Project, 2017). On the contrary, given that a significant number of the contract farmers are women, it is not clear how the regulations which forbids pregnant women from farm labour are enforced.

Table 4.2 presents a summary of some of the global certification bodies for the four study cases studied.

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