Ensuring a fair and inclusive transition for oil and gas workers has been an investor engagement topic in recent years; a new report argues the same attention must be paid to farm and food workers.
A ‘just transition’ in the food and agricultural sector for farm workers is necessary, says Ceres, which has released a new report exploring a framework for investors to engage with companies on the issue.
The Boston-based US investor network says while there is much discussion about what a just transition looks like for workers in sectors such as energy and industry, there has been less consideration for workers in the food and agricultural sectors.
This is despite the food industry being responsible for approximately one third of global greenhouse gas emissions meaning it plays a vital role in the transition to a lower emissions economy. Moreover, the food and agriculture sector are acutely vulnerable to the physical risks of climate change, such as droughts and floods.
But Ceres notes that new climate smart agriculture practices are often out of reach economically for small-scale operators, which comprise 89% of US farmers and much of the workforce in multinational agriculture and food supply chains.
It warns that a failure to prioritise the livelihoods, health, and safety of farmers could create a host of financial risks for companies and investors. “Farmers and farmworkers underpin not only the entire global food system but also the economy and the whole of society; the continued viability of food companies depends on them,” says the report.
No farmer left behind
Ceres’ guidance on engaging with food companies to ensure a just and inclusive transition includes ascertaining whether companies have acknowledged the physical and transition climate risks to farmers and farmworkers and have committed to addressing them. Ceres says a company’s commitment to a just transition for farmers and farmworkers should complement a robust human rights commitment aligned with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
It also says investors can go further and engage with companies on their sustainable agriculture commitments and procurement policies, such as embedding farmworker safety and human rights protections within supplier policies and codes of conduct.
For example, companies sourcing palm oil should require suppliers to have a No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) policy, which combines environmental requirements with protections such as Free Prior and Informed Consent for Indigenous communities.
Other engagement topics could be whether companies commit to support the transition to climate smart agriculture practices within their supply chains, including farmers and workers who may be unable to invest in such technology.
Focusing on the US food sector, the report also says investors should engage with companies on retraining or compensating farmers who are “left behind” in the shift to new practices.
Ceres also says investors should expect companies to support policy and regulations that support farmers and farmworkers in improving the resilience of agricultural systems and reducing agricultural GHG emissions, as well as legislation that protects farmworkers from dangerous conditions.
Companies should also disclose and engage their trade associations to ensure that their indirect lobbying efforts will help accelerate economy-wide actions needed for all companies to achieve their climate commitments.