• Agribusiness companies need to incorporate the results of human rights impact assessments into their risk management systems 
  • Companies must document and investigate the impact of their business activities on the lives and rights of people 
  • Women workers are subject to discrimination and abuses in the agricultural industry, which lacks a robust focus on gender equity 

October 17, 2023 – The private sector urgently needs to shift from a voluntary model of corporate social responsibility to a standard of human rights due diligence to be able to prevent and repair abuses affecting workers and communities while also ensuring sustainability and profitability. Due diligence allows companies to proactively manage real and potential risks related to human rights. 

The VIII Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights for Latin America and the Caribbean, organized by the Responsible Business Conduct in Latin America and the Caribbean (RBCLAC) project, took place on October 11th and 12th. Affected communities, nonprofit organizations, company representatives, international organizations, and government authorities engaged in dialogue and exchanged information about the responsibility that companies have to uphold human rights as well as prevent and repair abuses that are a result of their business activities.  

During the session “Debida diligencia y los derechos de participación, información y reparación en el sector agronegocios” (Due Diligence and the Rights to Participation, Information, and Repair in the Agribusiness Sector), organized by Fundación Avina, representatives from different sectors agreed that the widespread lack of knowledge about human rights due diligence, including the concept in general and the benefits of implementing it, is an issue.  

Liliana Perdomo Vela, Manager of Business and Human Rights for CHB Group, pointed out that one of the current challenges is that companies need to incorporate the results of human rights impact assessments into their risk management systems. Perdomo Vela emphasized that companies lack awareness of the relationship between international human rights instruments and their businesses. On a positive note, she recognized that agribusiness companies are starting to discuss this problem and include active responsibility for upholding human rights in their internal agendas. This means developing and implementing policies, practices, and processes that incorporate a human rights perspective across all aspects of their business. 

Jorge Acosta, founder of the ASTAC labor union, brought up the fact that the immense economic and political power of banana exporters in Ecuador makes it challenging to protect and uphold the rights of workers. This power leads to a lack of transparency in value chains, which, when combined with unchecked violence and a weak justice system, discourages workers from reporting abuses. For example, ASTAC has received threats of violence in retaliation for reporting abuses through due diligence mechanisms.  Jorge called on those present to think about ways to strengthen the practice and monitoring of due diligence as well as the role of labor unions in the region. 

Another key issue that requires more attention is gender equity. Margarita Nemecio, Coordinator of the Right to Decent Work Program at Centro de Estudios en Cooperación Internacional y Gestión Pública (CECIG), emphasized that violations of the labor rights of women agricultural workers occur partly because employers and government authorities lack awareness of gender-based discrimination and violence. Without increased awareness, these stakeholders cannot understand the rights of women workers or know how to defend and uphold them, suggested Nemecio. 

These challenges and obstacles should not overshadow the positive impact that due diligence has for workers, exemplified by the story shared by Roselia Marisol Canel Tejaxún, an agricultural worker from Guatemala. Canel Tejaxún and her family saw their own farming enterprise negatively impacted by climate change. She later faced abusive conditions as an agricultural worker, including 18-hour days and insufficient pay. She shared that women face greater obstacles and prejudices, including when employers give preference to men when hiring. Finally, she had a positive experience as a temporary agricultural worker in the United States, thanks to the support of CIERTO and their ethical recruitment model. 

“I’m a farmer that comes from a farming family. We grow corn, but as time went on we saw that our harvest was getting smaller because of climate change. There wasn’t as much rain as before, and this really affected us because the harvest is how we make a living. That’s when I decided to go work at an agricultural processing plant in Guatemala, where we worked over 18 hours a day in a refrigerated room. I was working there to be able to pay to go back to school […] but I realized that it wouldn’t be enough money, so I decided to look for an organization to help me find a better future,” said Canel Tejaxún. 

For Verónica Rodríguez, Fundación Avina staff member and coordinator of the PERIPLO project, the session enabled workers, civil society organizations, affected communities, and businesses to speak plainly and directly with one another.  

By the end of the session, there was a clear consensus around the importance of implementing robust mechanisms for human rights due diligence that center workers and communities, take differentiated approaches, and prioritize open communication. Spaces like these are vital to creating deeper connections between stakeholders so they can continue to work together toward a more just and inclusive agricultural industry that respects human rights.  

For more information, visit www.proyectoperiplo.org  

Media contact: Pablo Baños pablo.banos@avina.net