Updated on May 8, 2020
The UTZ program is all about better farming. That means better agricultural practices leading to a better crop but it’s also about better working and living conditions for the farmers producing these crops. And what to think of the 300,000 people (2019) who are hired by farmers to work on UTZ certified farms? We asked Miguel Zamora, Director Markets Transformation, how that key element of the UTZ program works.
UTZ certified farmers own their own area of land, and they are responsible for following the UTZ requirements for sustainable farming, which brings them big benefits. Part of these requirements is about creating a safe and healthy work environment. Through training, farmers become more aware of the importance of this, from wearing protective clothing when spraying agrochemicals on their land to having access to clean drinking water. But apart from taking good care of themselves, UTZ farmers are also responsible for the wellbeing of the people working on their farm.
Depending on the size of their farm, farmers cannot work alone; they have to hire workers to help them, particularly during harvest periods. More than 300,000 people are hired to work on UTZ certified farms in 43 countries (2019). The vast majority of these workers are on large coffee farms.
Miguel Zamora has worked in the coffee sector in Latin America for most of his career. He explains: “A cocoa farm of a couple of hectares in West Africa might hire one or two workers to help out during the harvest; a big 200 hectare coffee estate in Latin America will often have dozens of permanent workers and hundreds of additional seasonal workers during harvest periods, with many living on site.”
“Wherever they are, workers are in the most precarious situation in the agricultural sector. In many cases, they do not own any land themselves,” says Miguel. “Some groups are particularly vulnerable to labor abuses in agriculture, such as women, children, indigenous people or migrant laborers.”
Better working conditions
This is why the UTZ requirements around better working conditions are so important. Miguel explains:
Workers on UTZ certified farms benefit from a whole range of protections designed to safeguard their rights and provide a better quality of life.
The foundations of our standards when it comes to working conditions are the main International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. “The requirements cover a whole array of topics,” says Miguel. “Prohibiting forced labor, child labor, and discrimination; access to clean drinking water, sanitation and health care; maternity leave; and the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining so that workers can negotiate for better wages and conditions.”
Miguel explains that providing a safe and healthy working environment is also vitally important. “This means, for example, that the farmer must ensure their workers have access to protective clothing and equipment.”
Farmers who employ workers must also meet legal minimum wages and in addition, for large individual farms, must make progress towards a ‘living wage’ through cash increases above inflation each year.
Studies show the impact
So, what do these measures mean in practice? We regularly commission studies into the effectiveness and impact of the program, and there have been some encouraging results.
“One of the impact studies we commissioned showed very high worker satisfaction on UTZ certified coffee farms in Brazil,” says Miguel. “Workers reported several benefits that UTZ certification had brought them directly, particularly improved health and safety and facilities such as canteens and lavatories.”
The study also found that UTZ certification supported farmers to implement the local labor law when it comes to hiring workers. This resulted in economic benefits for workers, as proper legal wages as well as health and social security benefits were offered.
Another study in Colombia found that workers employed by UTZ certified farmers experience better working conditions than those on non-certified farms, especially with regard to health and safety. More studies can be found in our impact report.
Know where your products come from
All of this is backed up by our strong assurance system: tough standards, strict annual audits and a strong traceability system. “This means that UTZ certified coffee, cocoa and tea is truly linked to farms that protect the rights of workers,” explains Miguel.
“UTZ certification is one of the best ways to ensure the basic rights of workers are protected, as well as meeting the needs of the rest of the supply chain,” says Miguel.
This system helps farmers who employ workers to comply with national labor laws, and it enables companies to contribute to positive change in origin countries while avoiding risk for their brand.