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Background & Underlying Assumptions

Social Stewardship Standards for Farms, Ranches, and other Food and Agriculture Businesses (2019v4)

General Principles #

For the authors, as for many organic farmers around the world and the hundreds of organizations which have signed on to the IFOAM principles, social justice and social rights are integral aspects of organic agriculture, processing, distribution, and retailing.

These principles of social justice are essential:

  1. To allow everyone involved in organic and sustainable production and processing a quality of life that meets their basic needs and allows an adequate return and satisfaction from their work, including a safe working environment.

  2. To progress toward an entire production, processing, and distribution chain that is both socially just and ecologically responsible.

IFOAM’s Principle of Fairness #

Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities. Fairness is characterized by equity, respect, justice and stewardship of the shared world, both among people and in their relations to other living beings.

This principle emphasizes that those involved in organic agriculture should conduct human relationships in a manner that ensures fairness at all levels and to all parties – farmers, workers, processors, distributors, traders and consumers. Organic agriculture should provide everyone involved with a good quality of life and contribute to food sovereignty and reduction of poverty. It aims to produce a sufficient supply of good quality food and other products. This principle insists that animals should be provided with the conditions and opportunities of life that accord with their physiology, natural behavior and well-being.

Natural and environmental resources that are used for production and consumption should be managed in a way that is socially and ecologically just and should be held in trust for future generations. Fairness requires systems of production, distribution and trade that are open and equitable and account for real environmental and social costs.

IFOAM Principles

Underlying Assumptions #

These Standards are intended to guarantee just working and living conditions for all agricultural and food system workers, and just financial returns, equity, and fair working conditions for family-scale farmers, their families, and other food business employers. All parties involved are encouraged and expected to voluntarily go beyond the minimum, whenever possible.

Consistent with the vision outlined later in this document, the goal is to build and maintain a mutually respectful and supportive relationship amongst the various parties in the food system (e.g., buyers, farmers, farm employees, cooperative employees, restaurant employees, and other food business owners and employees), rather than an antagonistic one.

We envision a symbiotic relationship, in which despite occasional differences and disputes, the farmer, farm employee, and other food business employees and managers, buyers of farm products, and citizens who purchase the final product are able to live full and rewarding lives. In this scenario, the farmer can count on a fair agreement/contract with at least minimum fair prices and a well-trained and consistent work force. The workers can count on stable, dignified work and just treatment. The buyer can rely on getting high quality food products.

Although these Standards are applicable to a range of scale operations they are primarily intended as a tool for small and medium scale family farms and food businesses to help these groups add value and further differentiate their market share. The standards include sections that can be used by all types of food businesses including cooperative stores, restaurants, or even certifiers.

These Standards have been field-tested through a number of years of pilot certifications on small and medium-sized farms and in food system businesses, coops, and organic certifiers in the U.S. It is recognized that the local, regional, national and/or international context of food production and distribution may require adjustments to these Standards in order to maintain the protection, integrity and quality of life of these stakeholders and there is a formal Standards revision process every five years.

These Standards are intended to be consistent with and to build on IFOAM principles on Social Justice, and the work of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Commitment of Phylogenetic Resources, and the International Labor Organization (ILO). The Standards setting process is intended to be consistent with the ISEAL Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards.

A just workplace depends upon the equal involvement of employers and employees, directly or through democratically chosen representatives. All efforts will be made to include participation of organizations representing farm and other food system workers and farmers, rather than merely public and private agencies providing services to these groups. In the case of workers, such representatives could be from unions chosen by workers on the farms, plants or stores to be certified or other local worker organizations.  

In the case of farmers, such representatives could be from associations chosen by farmers to be certified, or from other local farmer or indigenous people’s organizations.

Participants in this program will be committed to continual improvement. For example, in relation to workers, employers under this program are committed to continual improvement in matters relating to employee wages, benefits, housing, and working conditions. In relation to farmers, buyers under this program are committed to continual improvement in matters relating to pricing of farm products, contracts, benefits and equity sharing, and all are committed to improving community relations. The farmer is committed continually to improve product quality, production efficiency, ecological balance, and environmental stewardship.

Employers under this program will agree to comply with all relevant federal, state, and local laws covering working conditions, health and safety, and terms of employment.

Recognizing that laws protecting farmers, agricultural workers, and other food system workers are, in general, weak, and that enforcement is often lax, the lack of record of violations will not be considered a positive indication of the working or equity conditions.

We assume that buyers have rights that need to be protected, and we further assume that all the parties using the claim of fairness of these standards need to be certified or engaged in some other form of third-party verification system. We intend these standards to be used for a certification process as an additional mark with organic certification. Farms that use organic practices but are not certified organic may also qualify. 

We also see a place for these standards as a guide for family-scale farms that sell direct to local markets, have a small number of employees and are not under market pressure to obtain organic certification.

The Kinds of Farms that AJP Supports #

AJP wants to support farms that:

  • Conserve resources and a clean environment.
  • Set fair pricing.
  • Provide conditions of respect, safety, and living wages for the people who work on them.
  • Treat livestock humanely.
  • Are embedded in their local community and where the people doing the work have control over the resources necessary to farm successfully.

These are all possible on a farm where one person or one family lives and works, or on a farm with one hundred hired employees, or on a cooperative farm with any number of cooperating partners.