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Agricultural workers are among world’s hungriest, says UN expert

Right to food

23 October 2018

NEW YORK (23 October 2018) – Agricultural workers are among the world’s most hungry and are largely excluded from national legal protective frameworks, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said in New York today.

States need to step up to ensure that the people who produce our food do not go hungry, and that their fundamental rights are fully respected, Hilal Elver conveyed in her annual report.

The Special Rapporteur said that agricultural workers, who comprise approximately one third of the world’s workforce, over one billion people, face formidable barriers to the realization of their right to food, often working without labour and employment protections and under dangerous conditions.

She further explained that many of the agricultural workers are employed in the industrial food system that currently dominates the world. This system focuses on increasing food production and maximizing profitability at the lowest possible economic cost at the expense of workers.

“Agricultural workers, including women, children and migrants and plantation workers, are increasingly faced with low wages, part-time work, informality, and a lack of social and economic protections. They are further faced with dangerous working conditions owing to regular exposure pesticides and to long hours spent in extreme temperatures without adequate access to water.”

Ms. Elver recalled that the agricultural sector is one of the world’s most dangerous, with more than 170,000 agricultural workers killed at work each year, the risk of a fatal accident being twice as high as compared with other sectors.

Migrant workers, in particular, face more severe economic exploitation and social exclusion than other agricultural workers as they lack the fundamental protections otherwise extended to citizens. The human rights expert explained that “employers are more likely to consider migrant workers as a disposable, low-wage workforce, silenced without rights to bargain collectively for improved wages and working condition.”

Elver said that some 108 million children were particularly vulnerable to the dangers of agricultural work due to insufficient risk prevention and lack of control measures. Over 70 percent of the child labour workforce is deployed in the broader agricultural sector. 

“Labour rights and human rights are interdependent, indivisible, and mutually inclusive”, the expert added. The full enjoyment of human rights and labour rights for agricultural workers is a necessary precondition for the realization of the right to food.”

States bear the primary duty to respect, protect and fulfill the right to food of agricultural workers under international human rights law and to regulate the national and extraterritorial behaviours of the private sector.

“It is time for States to step up, and take swift and urgent action to hold accountable those who commit human rights violations against agricultural workers and to prevent further violations”, the expert concluded.


Ms. Hilal Elver (Turkey) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the right to food by the Human Rights Council in 2014. She is a Research Professor, and global distinguished fellow at the University of California, Law School Resnick Food Law and Policy Center. She has a law degree, a Ph.D. from the University of Ankara Law School, and SJD from the UCLA Law School. She started her teaching career at the University of Ankara Faculty of Law. 

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact: Jeremy Laurence (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

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