Please support the development of this toolkit by signing our guestbook or donating if you're able.


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

Agroecological Sustainability #

Agroecology definition from Navdanya

“Agroecology is holistic study of agro-ecosystems, including all environmental and human elements that focuses on the form, dynamics and functions of their inter- and intra-relationships. It can also be defined as an ecological approach to agriculture that views agricultural areas as ecosystems and is concerned with the ecological impact of agricultural practices. Agroecology allows deeper scientific understanding of agriculture as it applies ecological principles to systems of food production taking into account relationships between different components of the agroecosystem including the human community. It teaches us to be in tune with nature while producing a diversity of healthy, nutritive and delicious foods, using sources of nature. Agroecology, in essence, is the philosophy of relishing all edibles that nature produces and, at the same time, of nurturing nature to allow it blossom with its biodiversities.

Agroecology also delivers the social benefits associated with poverty reduction and community empowerment. At one hand where it reduces the possibility of environmental degradation, on other hand it is capable of delivering the environmental benefits through efficient resource use and reduced environmental impacts (both on – and off-farm). It also help protect biodiversity and enhances the resilience against the shocks associated with accelerating climate change. Agroecology is the emerging scientific paradigm based on the recognition of the ecological principals when applied to agricultural systems. Some of these ecological principles have been practiced in traditional agriculture and some of them have come from new findings in ecological disciplines, such as biodiversity and soil food web.

Agroecology is time-tested and proven traditional way of farming that was evolved by farmers suiting to their diverse agro-climatic conditions. The experience of farmers around the world using agroecological methods has provided enough evidence of its economic, social and environmental benefits. Agroecological approaches have delivered increased food production and improved income for farmers, and enhanced food security and nutrition for the communities they feed. The input costs go down with time and farmers not only reduce the cost of cultivation but also increases the output.”

Definition from UN FAO: 

“Agroecology is based on applying ecological concepts and principles to optimize interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment while taking into consideration the social aspects that need to be addressed for a sustainable and fair food system.”  

La Via Campesina has written and advocated extensively on the role of agroecological practices and food sovereignty.

“La Via Campesina is an international movement bringing together millions of peasants, small and medium size farmers, landless people, rural women and youth, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world. Built on a strong sense of unity, solidarity between these groups, it defends peasant agriculture for food sovereignty as a way to promote social justice and dignity and strongly opposes corporate driven agriculture that destroys social relations and nature.”

At-Will Employment #

The at-will employment doctrine (“at-will doctrine”) reflects a legal presumption that an employer enjoys absolute discretion to terminate employment without fear of liability. Termination may take place at any time and for any reason or no reason at all. Likewise, an employee may walk away from a job at any time, for any or no reason. While the at-will doctrine applies equally to both parties, its benefits flow to the party with greater power, which is usually the employer. Prevalent in America is the unconditional form of at-will employment. This means an employee may be released arbitrarily and with impunity. Some jurisdictions have tempered what they considered to be particularly harsh and inflexibly strict enforcement of at-will employment agreements. Prohibitions against termination of workers for making many types of workplace complaints are present, and, of course, anti-discrimination statutes prohibit termination on the basis of protected characteristics. Workers are protected when they report or resist unlawful activity by whistleblower statutes.  The at-will doctrine does not limit the power of employers and employees to contract for employment under other lawful terms, and, in turn, to enforce that contract. The at-will doctrine is a well-settled feature of law protecting an employer’s liability for wrongful termination, but it has given rise to a growing number of challenges in recent years. Courts have recognized that an employer’s power to freely discharge at-will employees may be contractually restricted. Because of the presumption that employment relationships are at-will, particular circumstances must be present to alter or supersede that presumption. An example of such circumstances includes the issuance of employee handbooks containing detailed procedures for employee discharge.

Agricultural mediation #

Mediation is a tool for farmers, farm employees and others in the food system to talk about difficult subjects and to reach fair and workable solutions that everyone involved can live with without calling upon outside authorities.  Mediation can help people solve problems, avoid escalating conflict, and reduce stress.  The people who are involved directly make decisions and solve problems for themselves with the help of a neutral mediator who does not decide on outcomes or give legal advice. About 30 states in the United States have Centers for Dispute Settlement.

Bad faith #

Intentional dishonest act by not fulfilling legal or contractual obligations, misleading another, entering into an agreement without the intention or means to fulfill it, or violating basic standards of honesty in dealing with others.

Buyer #

The broker, wholesaler, integrator, retailer, or processor to whom the farmer sells. Buyers are the closest links to the farmers.

Child labor #

In these standards “minor” and “child” are used as synonyms. AJP standards prohibit full time employment or any employment that interferes with schooling in accordance with national legislation, or the culturally appropriate educational needs of the children involved. AJP refers to the intent of children working on the farm outlined by the International Labour Organization (ILO website 2010): “Not all work that children undertake in agriculture is bad for them or would qualify as work to be eliminated under the ILO Minimum Age Convention No. 138 or the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention No. 182. Age-appropriate tasks that are of lower risk and do not interfere with a child’s schooling and leisure time, can be a normal part of growing up in a rural environment. Indeed, many types of work experience for children can be positive, providing them with practical and social skills for work as adults.” AJP defines children as under 18 years of age. In countries where young people can legally leave school at the age of 16, these standards would allow the full-time employment of 16 – 18-year olds if it can be documented that the children left school voluntarily.

Cloning #

The use of artificial engineering to create genetically-identical offspring. In animal husbandry this is primarily used to multiply breeding stock. The science is relatively new and any long-term effects to human or animal health are understudied and not yet known. 

Collective bargaining #

The performance of the mutual obligation of the employer and the employees or representative of the employees or the buyer and farmer or representative of farmers to meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to conditions of either wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, or the negotiation of an agreement or any question arising thereunder, and the execution of a written contract incorporating any agreement reached if requested by either party.

Collective mark #

A collective mark is an emblem adopted by a collective organization for use by its members in selling their individual goods or services and distinguishing their goods or services from those of non-members.

Conflict resolution procedure #

A procedure outlined by the Agricultural Justice Project that includes a series of steps designed to resolve conflicts, disputes, or disagreements.

Contract #

Refers very broadly to (a) both verbal and written terms and conditions of employment between an employer and an employee and (b) all written and verbal marketing agreements.  Contracts and agreements are often used interchangeably in agricultural employment.  Personnel policy manuals must include a tiered disciplinary process that guides termination decisions so that when an employee is fired, the cause is clear to all parties and is not arbitrary. Even if an entity uses an At-Will employment clause in a written contract or personnel manual, if any AJP certified entity fires an employee without just cause, that entity will lose AJP certification.

Contractor #

One who works based on contract, not as an employee.

Collectors #

the individuals from the indigenous community who do the physical work of selecting and collecting the natural resources.

Democratic Process #

A democratic process is a practice that allows democracy to exist. Democracy is based on the idea that everyone should have equal rights and be allowed to participate in making important decisions. It is a form of governance that facilitates transparency and equal participation, either directly (or through elected leaders) or indirectly in the proposal, development and establishment of all policies that run the organization.

Democratically chosen #

This phrase is used throughout this document in referring to the right (not requirement) of employees to choose a representative to engage in dialogue and/or bargaining with the employer over terms and conditions of employment, as well as the right (not requirement) of farmers to choose a representative to engage in dialogue and/or negotiating with the buyer over terms and conditions of their contract or agreement. Management/Buyer interference or intimidation which would violate this standard includes, but is not limited to, suggesting in any way that wages, benefits, working conditions, housing conditions, or terms of a contract or agreement are in any direct or indirect way contingent on workers’ or farmers’ decisions with respect to collective representation; generalized statements that are anti-union, anti-organizing, or anti-collective bargaining in character.

Ecolabel #

Ecolabels act as seals of approval and clearly identify products that have been produced according to specific guidelines. Ecolabels inform consumers about production practices and social issues in addition to product attributes.

Employee #

A person hired to work in a business or on a farm including migrant, temporary, seasonal, subcontracted and permanent workers. Not limited to field workers, but also includes administrative personnel. Worker and employee are used interchangeably in this document.

Employer #

In the context of this document, the farmer who hires the farm employee, or the food business that hires workers.

Farmworker #

This term refers to an employee of a farmer and is used within this document as a synonym for employee (see employee).

Farm Work (including but not limited to) #

Working on a farm means the services performed by an employee on a farm in the employ of the owner, lessee or operator of a farm in connection with: (1) the preparation, care and treatment of the soil including plowing, discing and fertilizing; (2) sowing, planting, cultivating, irrigation, weed control, thinning, heating, pruning, or tying, spraying, dusting, and raising of any agricultural or horticultural commodity, including the raising or hatching of poultry, the raising, shearing, feeding, caring for, milking, housing, training, management of livestock, bees, fur-bearing animals, fish, mollusks, insects and wildlife and harvesting of any agricultural or  horticultural crop, including, but not limited to picking, cutting, threshing, mowing, knocking off, field chopping, bunching, baling, field packing, and placing in field containers or in the vehicle in which the crop will be hauled and transportation on the farm or to a place of first processing or distribution; (3) the production or harvesting of maple syrup or maple sugar; (4) the operation, management, conservation, improvement or maintenance of a farm and its tools and equipment; (5) the operation or maintenance of ditches, canals, reservoirs or waterways used exclusively for removing, supplying and storing water for farming purposes; (6) the handling, planting, drying, packing, packaging, processing, freezing, grading, loading, stacking, binding, piling, storing or delivering to market or to a carrier for transportation to market, of any agricultural or horticultural commodity raised on the employer’s farm.

Family Scale Farm #

AJP supports the overall framework put forward by La Via Campesina that defends family farming in terms of peasant-based ecological farming, as opposed to the “large-scale, industrial, toxic farming of agribusinesses, which expel peasants and small farmers and grab the world’s lands.” However, in the context of agriculture in the US, we believe that additional refinements are necessary to clarify which farms qualify for Food Justice Certification. The term ‘family farming’ is vast, and may include almost any agricultural model or method, and many farms in the US, even very small ones, take the legal structure of a corporation. Defining size by acreage and excluding “large” farms does not coincide with the reality in the US: for example, there are family-scale farms, where members of the family do most of the work with a minimum of hired help, that work over a thousand acres growing grains and beans. By contrast, there are corporate-controlled vegetable and fruit operations that farm a few hundred acres and hire hundreds of farm workers where the profits go to people who never work on the farm.  In California, there are mid-sized organic farms that are good candidates for FJC where the farmer may own some land, but also rents land, hires employees who do a large portion of the work, and spends most of his/her time managing the farm, making the majority of the day-to-day, operational decisions, and all strategic management decisions.  Increasingly in many parts of the country, it is not a traditional family, but a group of unrelated people who cooperate in running a farm either as a legal cooperative or a more informal Limited Liability Company or worker owned structure. For FJC, it is not the acreage but the management control and beneficiaries of the proceeds that are critical as well as the farm’s connection with the local economy. The farms AJP supports range in size by acreage and gross sales from smallholders to medium-sized farms. These farms are diverse in character and usually also diversified in what they produce, thus making important contributions to biodiversity. To borrow language from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, these farms are embedded in “territorial networks and local cultures and spend their incomes mostly within local and regional markets, generating many agricultural and non-agricultural jobs.” The income generated by these farms is not siphoned off to pay dividends to distant stockholders but goes to the farmers themselves and to the people who work on the farms. The values of ecology, health, care and fairness as defined in the IFOAM Principles of Organic Agriculture take priority over profit. At the same time, to survive in the capitalist marketplace and to afford ecological practices, these farms must generate sufficient revenues from the sale of farm products to cover production costs including living wages for farmers and farm workers as well as funds to ensure the future of the farm.

Food sovereignty #

The right of peoples, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural, labor, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. It includes the true right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and to food-producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies (La Via Campesina, 1996)

Food business worker #

This term refers to an employee of any food business and is used in this document as a synonym for employee (see employee).

Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) #

A plant, animal or organism that is developed by genetic engineering (GE), which is a modern biotechnological technique that alters and recombines the genetic material of biological units. Because of the relative newness of the technology, and a lack of independent research surrounding it, there may be long-term physical, mental and environmental effects that are not fully known. Society should observe the precautionary principle that would dictate extensive testing by independent researchers before commercializing GMOs.

Good faith #

Honest intent to act without taking an unfair advantage over another person or to fulfill a promise to act, even when some legal technicality is not fulfilled.

Grower group #

A group of producers with minimal hired labor and similar production and farming systems who live and farm within a prescribed geographical area and market cooperatively.

Hazardous Materials/Natural Dangers #

Those materials or conditions on a farm (chemical or non-chemical) whose presence may be naturally occurring or unavoidable, but that should be regarded with caution, and must be part of an operation’s health and safety program. For example: dust is a naturally occurring material to which workers and farmers are exposed in all types of farm work that can cause damage to one’s health.

Hired Labor #

For the purposes of the AJP standards, hired labor includes:

  • Part time employees
  • Seasonal employees
  • Full time employees
  • Any employee on payroll, even if family
  • Interns/apprentices (refer to intern standards for specific expectation on compensation)
  • Contracted labor – through Farm Labor Contractor or Crew Leaders
  • Anyone paid in cash or check for work on the farm

All of the above would routinely require an approved worker organization to be involved in the verification process.

Hired labor does not include:

  • Immediate family members – parents, children, brothers, sisters and their children (unless they are on the official farm payroll)
  • Volunteers – crop mobs, school, club or church groups who work for a few hours or a day, CSA members who do working shares in exchange for food or reduction in share price
  • Educational programs and tours including short term work stays such as WOOFing
  • Work trades or barter relationships with neighbors, relatives or friends

 These would not routinely require an approved worker organization to be involved in the verification process. 

Homeworking #

production work performed in their own homes by workers who are usually paid by the piece with no benefits.  This should be distinguished from the work at home of salaried employees or independent contractors who have home offices.

Indigenous peoples #

Peoples native to a particular region, autochthonous.

Intern / apprentice #

A worker or laborer on a farm whose primary motivation in working is educational, an on-farm training in the craft of farming, and not economic. An intern or apprentice views his/her compensation for labor to be primarily experiential __learning, and practical and theoretical knowledge of farming, rather than wages. As compensation to the farmer for providing a well-crafted and thorough program of training, interns often agree to accept minimum wages.

Labor agreement #

Refers to any verbal or written agreement or outline of the terms of work and is considered synonymous with contract in this document.

Labor contractor (including but not limited to farm labor contractors and temp agencies) #

Any person other than the employer, or an employee of an employer, who, for any money or other valuable consideration paid or promised to be paid, performs any recruiting, soliciting, hiring, employing, furnishing, or transporting any worker. An example of a labor contractor is the person or agency that arranges for field labor to arrive on the farm for harvest, or the person or agency that arranges for short-term staffing needs. A consultant or an individual who is paid under contract for their own work is not a labor contractor.

Mark #

The name and symbol that indicates certified origin, mode of production, quality, and compliance with our standards when it appears on products in the marketplace. The use of the mark is granted to certified entities by contractual arrangement only.

Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) #

Formal document containing important information about the characteristics and actual or potential hazards of a substance. It identifies the manufacturer of the material (with name, address, phone, and fax number) and usually includes (1) chemical identity, (2) hazardous ingredients, (3) physical and chemical properties, (4) fire and explosion data, (5) reactivity data, (6) health hazards data, (7) exposure limits data, (8) precautions for safe storage and handling, (9) need for protective gear, and (10) spill control, cleanup, and disposal procedures. Mandated by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), it is used also in many other countries in one form or the other.
Read more: What is a material safety data sheet (MSDS)? definition and meaning

Nanotechnology #

Engineered nanomaterials: substances deliberately designed, engineered and produced by human activity to be in the nanoscale range (approx 1-300 nm) because of very specific properties or compositions (e.g. shape, surface properties, or chemistry) that result only in that nanoscale. Incidental particles in the nanoscale range created during traditional food processing such as homogenization, milling, churning, and freezing, and naturally occurring particles in the nanoscale range are not intended to be included in this definition. All nanomaterials (without exception) containing capping reagents or other synthetic components are intended to be included in this definition. 

Organic #

Organic agriculture is a holistic production management system which promotes and enhances agroecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles, fair social relations, and soil biological activity. It emphasizes the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, taking into account that regional conditions require locally adapted systems. This is accomplished by using, where possible, agronomic, biological, and mechanical methods, as opposed to using hazardous materials, to fulfill any specific function within the system.

Profit-sharing (also profit sharing) #

A system in which the people who work for a company receive a direct share of the profits.

Transparency #

As a principle, managers and directors of businesses and organizations and board trustees have a duty to act visibly, predictably and understandably to promote participation and accountability. Transparency goes beyond simply making information available. Transparency is about honesty and choice and free access to knowledge, which implies that information flows all ways; information should be managed and published so that it is relevant and accessible as well as timely and accurate. Confidentiality should be incorporated to ensure the integrity of confidential matters. Information should be provided in comprehensible language and formats appropriate for different audiences and stakeholders and information should be presented with sufficient time and enough detail to permit analysis, evaluation and engagement. This means that information needs to be accessible while planning as well as during and after the implementation of policies and programs. Information should be up-to-date, accurate, and complete.

Toxic materials #

The standard definition refers to materials or substances that are poisonous, noxious, dangerous, harmful, or even lethal, causing damage to living beings whether human, animals, plants or soil microorganisms. Acute toxicity involves harmful effects on an organism through a single or short-term exposure.  Subchronic toxicity is the ability of a substance to cause damage that is less acute, but longer lasting.  Chronic toxicity is the ability of a substance to cause harmful effects for an extended period, usually from repeated exposure. In the context of these Standards, toxic refers to those materials used in agriculture that are harmful to living creatures on the farm or along the food chain from farm to table.  Farm workers have identified exposure to toxic materials as one of the most unfair practices in agricultural work.  Most toxic materials used in agriculture are synthetic xenobiotics that are used as pesticides and herbicides.  Naturally-occurring toxic materials such as rotenone, copper sulfate and pyrethroids are allowed in organic agriculture under some regulatory standards.  There are also hazardous materials that are not toxic in small amounts, but excessive exposure can lead to health effects, such as dust, flying sand particles and fumes from manure. 

Whistleblower #

A person who raises a genuine concern in good faith relating to the many types of reports that employees might make, such as failure to comply with legal or professional obligations or regulatory requirements; dangers to health and safety; child protection and safety concerns; wage violations; hygiene and food safety issues; animal welfare; sexual harassment, physical abuse; criminal activity, environmental violations and financial mismanagement. This would also include complaints or allegations against a certified entity about potential Food Justice Certified Standards violations.

Worker organization #

An organization, association, or trade union that is membership-based and is comprised of and directed by workers and/or the worker community (as distinguished from an advocacy organization that may speak or work on workers’ behalf but not directly represent them).

Working time #

Working time means the hours that an employee is permitted to work or is required to be available for work at the assigned place of work and shall include time spent in going from one field to another, in waiting for baskets, pickup or breakdown of machinery or equipment where the employer requires the employee to remain at the site of the breakdown during repairs. Time not worked because of weather conditions shall not be considered as hours worked. An employee, who lives on the premises of the employer, or in comparable facilities at the work site, shall not be considered to have worked or to have been available for work:

  1. during normal sleeping hours solely because the employee is required to be on call during such hours; or
  2. at any other time when the employee is free to leave the place of employment.