As the food workers’ union, UFCW is committed to advancing the principles and goals of the food justice movement. We believe that food workers, the people who make the food we eat, must serve a central role in defining the food justice movement and its priorities. Food workers, as citizens, voters and community members, also have a crucial role to play in demanding more from politicians, employers and governments on food justice issues, and using our collective power to help realize the movement’s goals and objectives.
What is food justice?
Food justice is all about taking action on issues that are connected to the production and distribution of food, and, in particular, how those practices impact us as workers, community members, consumers, Canadians and people from around the world.
It includes things like food security, which is all about making sure people have enough high quality, protein rich, safe food to eat and feed their families.
Food justice also means talking about food sovereignty and how every person should have the right to know where their food comes from, and how it’s made. Food sovereignty also means that people should have some say in how food is produced and to what extent high quality, safe, and protein rich food is made available.
In a democratic society, workers, consumers and community members, must have a meaningful role in shaping and governing the polices that affect our food supply, like Canada’s National Food Policy.
Keeping a close eye on the supply chain is very important for the food justice movement. Feeding a country, and creating food exports for other countries, takes thousands of people, and a core principle of the food justice movement is the treatment of food workers.
Food workers, whether they grow and harvest vegetables, make canned goods, cut meat, bake bread, wash produce, stock shelves, serve families at restaurants or in retirement homes, must be treated in accordance with international labour standards, which include sharing the same rights as every other person in Canada.
The food justice movement is also keenly committed to a true definition of sustainability that equally weighs environmental, economic and social concerns, and always includes just transition strategies with any and all proposed actions on climate change.
Why should Canadians care about food justice?
In Canada, we believe that workers have rights, and that the treatment of workers should be in keeping with the international standards signed by our country at the United Nations and the International Labour Organization Conventions 87 and 98 in particular. When we allow right-wing governments and irresponsible employers to break from those beliefs, traditions and commitments, our reputation is tarnished on the world stage, and our ability to be seen and heard as a leading international voice on human rights is undermined.
The ethical treatment of food workers is also in all of our self-interests as food consumers. There is a clear connection between respecting the human rights of food workers and the production of safe food.
In North America we have cases of food production workers being forced to wear diapers because they were denied bathroom breaks by irresponsible employers, as reported by Oxfam in their startling report, No Relief: Denial of bathroom breaks in the poultry industry.
Being forced to wear a diaper at work is an indignity, injustice and denial of human rights that none of us would want to endure. And as consumers, we would not, quite rightly, buy food – to feed ourselves and our families – that is made in an environment full of workers wearing dirty diapers.
And in other parts of the world, where freedom of the press, labour rights, food regulations, and the rule of law are not as strong, we can only guess about production standards and practices. Transparent food labelling that clearly outlines country of origin, and other important factors in the food production process, needs to be viewed as a central part of the food sovereignty conversation, and an important tool in helping Canadian families to make food choices, especially for the most vulnerable members of our society like children and aging parents.
The Canadian food industry, from field to fork, employs millions of Canadians, so we are all impacted by the level of justice in our food system as consumers, workers, or the friends, neighbours and family members of food workers.
Plus, with the wealth gap rapidly rising in Canada, food insecurity is becoming an unfortunate reality for more and more Canadians, as the use of food banks continues to grow year over year, creating more desperation in our communities and neighbourhoods, which impacts us all.
What are the food justice movement’s goals?
The food justice movement is committed to achieving a number of goals, and from the perspective of food workers, they must include:
A global standard for sustainability that equally includes and reflects environment, economic, and social concerns, and universal, active acceptance of that standard by government, industry and the third sector.
Greater transparency in terms of where our food comes from, and how it is made.
Universal acceptance by government and industry that food workers must serve a central role in all food policy development and governance initiatives.
Union rights for all food workers, because labour rights are human rights, and there is an obvious connection between the advancement of health and safety rights and higher food safety standards.
Whistle blower protections for food workers who raise concerns about irresponsible companies that ignore food safety standards.
How can you get involved?
There are many ways for Canadians to make a meaningful contribution to the food justice movement.
Use the power of your shopping cart!
First and foremost, question the foods you eat, and the retail brands you buy:
Do I know where this product is made?
Do I know if this is a company that respects the rights of food workers?
By buying this product I am supporting a company that pays their employees a living wage, and by doing so, creating less food insecurity?
Share your findings with your friends, family members, and coworkers, and encourage them to buy retail food brands that are aligned wit the goals of the food justice movement.
Because food insecurity is ultimately a result of poverty, and because collective bargaining is the best anti-poverty tool we have, encourage your friends and family members who are food workers to join the union.
Tell your local member of parliament (MP) or member of provincial parliament (MPP or MLA) that food justice is important to you, and if you live in Ontario, voice your outrage at the inability of agriculture workers in the province to join the union. At the national level, be sure to tell your MP that food workers must have an important role to play in developing Canada’s National Food Policy.