The UTZ program means better incomes for farmers, and just as important are the men and women who work on UTZ certified farms – more than 368,000 people in 2017. So a legitimate question we get from our business partners is: how does UTZ ensure workers receive a decent wage? We asked Noura Hanna, Workers Right and Livelihoods Expert at UTZ, to help us explain.
Better conditions for workers
In 2017 there were more than 368,000 workers on UTZ certified farms in 41 countries around the world. “These workers are among the poorest in the agricultural sector,” explains Noura. “Unlike farmers, they do not usually own land themselves. That’s why providing decent working and living conditions is a very important part of the UTZ program.”
The UTZ code enforces respect for workers’ rights in line with the main conventions of the International Labor Organization, covering health and safety, the right to collective bargaining, and provision of housing and facilities for workers living on site, among many other criteria.
Minimum vs. Living Wages
In addition, Noura says that one vitally important way UTZ contributes to improving the lives of workers is through requirements around wages.
“Many agricultural workers around the world still get paid less than the local legal minimum wage,” says Noura. “UTZ contributes to better wages for workers by ensuring that the minimum wage is paid and that there is progress towards a living wage, through a cash increase above inflation each year.”
So what exactly is a living wage?
A living wage would be sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for a worker and their family, based on a regular working week, and tailored to living costs in their specific location.
“This should be enough to pay for food, water, housing, education, health care, transport, clothing, and other essential needs including provision for unexpected events,” says Noura. “In the agricultural sector, many workers receive ‘in kind’ benefits in addition to the cash wage, such as medical care or housing, and this can also count as part of the living wage.”
In theory, the minimum wage should be set at the level of a living wage, meaning that it should allow for basic needs, but according to Noura “the minimum wage is often set too low to provide a decent standard of living.That’s why the UTZ program’s requirement about progress towards a living wage is so important.”
Giving workers the tools to negotiate
Noura explains that one of the most important steps towards making sure workers are paid a living wage is to identify how much a living wage would actually be in the regions where UTZ has certified farms, as there is a huge difference in living costs in different countries. “This gives workers and their representation the information they need to negotiate better wages with their employers. Employers are required to develop wage improvement plans that allow auditors to monitor progress towards the goal each year.”
In order to establish reliable benchmarks for the living wage in different countries, UTZ is collaborating with six of the world’s leading sustainability standards (including Fairtrade and the Rainforest Alliance) to form the Global Living Wage Coalition. This group has led in depth research to calculate living wage levels in South Africa, Dominican Republic, Malawi and Kenya, with 16 more countries to come in 2016.
The reports are being widely disseminated to the public. “This research,” says Noura, “has fed into the global debate on the topic of living wages, and is directly influencing the agendas of policy setters and multi-national companies who have the power to make a real difference.”
Find out more
Find out more about the idea of the living wage and how UTZ is applying it in our position paper.