What is the role of agribusiness in the realization of the right to food?


Private companies’ sourcing, pricing and wage policies have an important impact on the realization of the right to food. The current market structure gives commodity buyers, food processors and retailers considerable bargaining power in the supply chain. The farmers who produce the food, and the consumers who buy it, can lose out as a result.

In many cases, buyers and retailers pay relatively low prices for crops even when the prices increase on regional or international markets. Meanwhile they may charge high prices to consumers even when wholesale prices are squeezed.

How can we correct this imbalance of power? What rules can be applied to create a system that benefits both producers and commodity buyers? Do some business models – such as contract farming or farmer cooperatives – contribute better than others to the autonomy of farmers and to local food security? And are there other business models that small-scale farmers and investors can use with positive impacts on the realization of the right to food?

The Special Rapporteur focused on these questions in two reports: first to the Human Rights Council in March 2010 (Protecting workers in the agricultural sector and addressing the specific needs of smallholders), secondly to the UN General Assembly in October 2011 (Towards more equitable value chains). His March 2012 report on nutrition also addressed the role of private companies in the realization of the right to adequate food.

Read 10/03/2014: The transformative potential of the right to food, Final report drawing conclusions from his mandate, presented to the 25th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, also available in French, and Spanish.
Read 11-12/03/2014: Contribution of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr. Olivier De Schutter, to the workshop “Human Rights and Transnational Corporations: Paving the way for a legally binding instrument” convened by Ecuador, 11-12 March 2014, during the 25th session of the Human Rights Council
Read 11/05/2013: 'The contribution of Fair Trade to securing human rights in agriculture' - Q&A from the Special Rapporteur (11 May 2013).
Read 18/04/2013, Geneva: 'World Bank-led privatization of Burundian coffee industry must not repeat errors of the past' – UN experts warn
Read 24/10/2011: Towards more equitable value chains: alternative business models in support of the right to food, Report presented at the 66th Session of the United Nations General Assembly [A/66/262] (also available in French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Russian).
Read Addressing Concentration in Food Supply Chains. The Role of Competition Law in Tackling the Abuse of Buyer Power”, Briefing note by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, December 2010
Read Intervention to the Interactive Dialogue, Human Rights Council, 13th session, Palais des Nations, Geneva, March 2010 (in french)
Read Report 'Agribusiness and the right to food' presented to the Human Rights Council, [A/HRC/13/33], March 2010
Read Summary of the report 'Agribusiness and the right to food'