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Uniting Concerns--Organic and Fair Trade/Social Justice

From the magazine of California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF)
Fall 2003

SOCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY IN SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
By Sandy Brown

Many members of the organic community worldwide feel that a truly
holistic approach to organic agriculture also includes proper attention
to the working conditions under which it is produced. Joining them are
a growing number of consumers, who are beginning to ask questions about
labor standards.

Considerable work on certifying labor standards has already been done
in the manufacturing sector, particularly in companies involved in
international trade. Apart from certification of fair prices paid to
coffee farmers, however, little work has been done in the agricultural
sector.

There is a significant movement internationally whose goal is to link
the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable
agriculture. Spearheading the effort is a collaborative of
international nongovernmental organizations called the Social
Accountability in Sustainable Agriculture project (SASA).
Participating organizations represent the four primary social and
environmental verification systems in sustainable agriculture,
including: the International Federation of Organic Agriculture
Movements (IFOAM), The Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), The
Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), and Social
Accountability International (SAI). SASA¹s objectives are ³to improve
the social auditing process in agriculture and to foster closer
cooperation and shared learning between the initiatives through 12
pilot audits exercises worldwide.²

The purpose of these exercises is to get practical experience in
conducting audits at a variety of small- and medium-sized farms
throughout the world. Twelve farms were selected, from West Africa to
Costa Rica. The farm chosen for the audit in the U.S. was Swanton Berry
Farm in Davenport, CA.

For one week during July 2003, an audit team of representatives from
collaborating organizations, along with representatives from CCOF,
reviewed personnel and related records, interviewed workers, observed
management systems and labor practices, including wages, working
conditions, health benefits, and communication methods. UC-Berkeley¹s
Land Grants Management Department and the United Farm Workers also sent
representatives to participate.

While Jim Cochran, owner of Swanton Berry Farm, is a firm believer in
the importance of combining environmentally and socially conscious
practices, his reasons for participating in the SASA audit go beyond
the philosophical. By participating in the audit, Cochran has developed
an understanding of what social auditors expect, and believes that
institutionalizing a management system that reflects these criteria
will benefit business operation, making things run more smoothly and
efficiently.

³It was a terrific learning process, both in the preparation and during
the audit. I would do it again, if only for the benefits to our own
internal processes and record-keeping. It was great to have new eyes
looking at our records and asking questions.²
Swanton Berry Farm was assisted in preparation for the audit by the
author, labor consultant Sandy Brown.

³Most people believe that federal and state labor laws ensure fair
labor practices in U.S. agriculture,² says Brown. ³However, the laws
fall short and are generally not monitored or enforced, allowing for
some laws to be overlooked and causing even well-intentioned employers
to wonder if they are doing the right thing.² Auditors interview a
worker during the SASA Project¹s pilot audit at Swanton Berry Farm in
Davenport, CA.

For more info, visit www.isealalliance.org/sasa

 

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