People's Stories Livelihood

Hunger is unacceptable in the 21st century
by Gabriela Bucher
Executive Director of Oxfam International, agencies
Apr. 2022
Hunger is unacceptable in the 21st century, by Gabriela Bucher - Executive Director of Oxfam International
A mother in Somalia skips another meal so her children can eat. A father in Syria works for 13 hours but still cannot afford enough food for his family. A father in Niger sees his children go to sleep hungry.
Food prices, already rising from the pandemic, have skyrocketed because of the war in Ukraine; the World Bank estimating a shocking 37 percent rise. The price of wheat soared 80 percent between April 2020 and December 2021. In Syria, food prices have doubled in the last year.
The world was already rife with hunger before COVID-19 struck. In 2020, up to 811 million people – nearly one in 10 people – did not have enough food. And now the world is hurtling towards an unprecedented hunger crisis.
Many poorer countries are unable – and are too often made unable by an unequal global food system – to produce enough food to feed their people. They must rely on food imports. The reason is simple: crops are difficult to grow. The reasons for this are less simple: man-made climate breakdown is intensifying floods and droughts, locusts are ravaging crops, conflicts are destroying farmland and infrastructure, and people simply do not have enough money to buy seeds and equipment to grow crops.
Moreover, half of crops globally are now used to produce biofuels, animal feed and other products, like textiles. Many of these crops are monoculture, growing only one type of crop which destroys biodiversity and pulls nutrients from the soil. Not only is valuable farming land being used to grow crops not for food, but also the type of farming used damages the environment and results in fewer crops in the long term.
The reliance on food imports creates extreme vulnerability to external shocks. Nearly half of African countries import more than a third of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Fifteen countries, including Lebanon, Egypt and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, import more than half their share. Nearly all of Somalia’s wheat, where the worst drought in over 40 years has left millions facing famine-like conditions, comes from Russia and Ukraine.
And so rising and fluctuating food prices have hit vulnerable countries like a sledgehammer. Forty-two percent of Yemen’s wheat was shipped from Ukraine in the three months from December 20, 2021 to March 6, 2022, according to a shipping source consulted by Oxfam. A week after the war in Ukraine started, wheat prices in war-torn Yemen increased by 24 percent. The United Nations has said the country’s already dire hunger crisis is “teetering on the edge of outright catastrophe”. Lesson learned: dependency is dangerous.
Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. Advocates of large-scale, intensive industrial agriculture are saying, yet again, that we should ramp up global production. But this is not the solution. The world’s farmers produce enough food to feed the global population, and in recent years, the world has witnessed record harvests of grain production. The main problem is access to food, not availability. We need systemic change, not a short-term fix.
Governments tried to take short-cuts during the global 2007 – 2008 global food crisis which saw wheat and rice prices nearly double, pushing 100 million people into poverty, and by 2009 over one billion into hunger. The policy responses were either one-off, short-term initiatives or focused on the wrong target – increased production and investment in the private sector. These measures did nothing but plaster over the already existing cracks in the global food system, a system that is unsustainable for people and the planet.
We need to recognise that the underlying causes of hunger lie in extreme inequality. Immediately, governments must urgently bridge the gap between what people can afford and the price of the food they need. More funds are needed to deliver aid to people facing severe hunger across the world. Most importantly, donor governments should not raid aid budgets earmarked for crises in poor countries to pay for the new costs of Ukrainian support. Denmark has already cut their funding to Mali, Syria and Bangladesh. Sweden has followed suit, as has the United Kingdom. No life is more valuable than another.
Rich countries rightfully spent trillions of dollars to save their economies from the impact of the pandemic. A mere fraction of that is needed to make sure people around the world can put food on the table. But governments must go much further. That means investing in a sustainable future for all, in which small-scale family farming plays a key role.
Small-scale family farms feed one-third of the world’s population, and in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa they provide more than 70 percent of the food supply. If these farmers had more access to land, water, funding, infrastructure and markets, and their rights protected, they could produce much more food. They could drastically reduce poverty and hunger.
That means, vitally, addressing the unequal climate crisis in which the poorest people and small-scale farmers who did the least to cause the crisis suffer the most at the expense of the over-consumption of the one percent. And it means addressing extreme land inequality – including guaranteeing women smallholder farmers land rights.
These are all things governments can – and should – urgently do. Hunger is unacceptable in the 21st century. To witness millions a step away from famine in a world of plenty, in a world where billionaire wealth has exploded, is an abomination. Only the right political choices can end hunger.


Protecting the fundamental human right to a safe and healthy workplace
by ILO, ITUC, HRW, Social Europe
Protecting the fundamental human right to a safe and healthy workplace, by Dr Ivan Jimenez.
Protection of workers’ health and safety is core to achieving sustainable, decent working conditions. Workers should not suffer accidents or illness, or even die, as a result of an unsafe and unhealthy working environment.
Yet the global evidence of poor practice in occupational safety and health (OSH) is staggering. Before the pandemic, the International Labour Organization estimated that annually more than 2.78 million deaths resulted from occupational accidents or work-related diseases, with 7,500 people dying from unsafe and unhealthy working conditions on average every single day. Additionally, there are some 374 million non-fatal work-related injuries each year.
Within the European Union, the latest figures suggest there were more than 3,300 fatal and 3.1 million non-fatal accidents in 2018, with more than 200,000 workers dying each year from work-related illnesses. On top of the paramount human tragedy, work-related accidents and illnesses cost the EU economy over 3.3 per cent of gross domestic product annually.
Protecting the fundamental human right to a safe and healthy workplace has long been demanded of policy-makers. And the EU treaties, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the European Pillar of Social Rights and the recent European Commission strategy for decent work worldwide, as well as the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs), all embed health and safety in European and global standards.
But there remains a pressing need for a more effective regulatory mechanism, which stimulates greater accountability on the part of governments and imposes stronger obligations on companies and other organisations.
There are frameworks, of a more voluntary nature, to address the risk of adverse impacts on human and labour rights, such as the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and its Global Compact or the older Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Regrettably, however, governments and companies still lag behind in their duty to protect workers’ health and safety.
These frameworks share a human-rights-based approach to workplace health and safety. Linking OSH to human-rights due diligence can put recognition of the right to safe and healthy working conditions on a par with the International Labour Organization’s fundamental rights to decent work—alongside freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and the conventions on protection against child and forced labour.
In the bigger picture, OSH is an ethical and social duty. There is growing momentum, on the part of governments, investors, companies, civil society, the social partners and other stakeholders, behind making protection of OSH mainstream through regulations and standards and further embedding it into the corporate-governance framework.
Fundamental right
As the world staggers out of the pandemic, and as governments, society, workers and employers approach the 2030 SDGs milestone, it is time to reinforce the principle that all workers should enjoy safe and healthy working conditions. This can only be realised if the right to a safe and healthy working environment is formally recognised as just that—a fundamental human right.
If an initiative to this affect is approved at the next (110th) session of the ILO’s International Labour Conference, it will entail amendment of the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work or adoption of a self-standing declaration. Either way, this will just constitute the starting point of a long process.
In the long term more countries would feel compelled to ratify and implement core ILO labour and health-and-safety conventions covering prevention of injuries and illnesses arising from work, including throughout global supply chains. It would also favour a more human-centred commitment, on the part of the commission and EU member states, to integration of the right to safe and healthy working conditions into the ILO framework of fundamental principles and rights at work.
At a time when the European labour market is confronted with far-reaching issues—globalisation, the informal economy, technological development, precarious work—this initiative should represent an urgent and compelling wake-up call.
The right of workers, irrespective of their background, type of employment or the country where they operate, to enjoy the highest level of protection at the workplace must be recognised as non-negotiable.
* Dr Ivan Jimenez is a policy and advocacy manager at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health in the UK.
Apr. 2022
End Violence and Harassment at Work, by Erika Nguyen and Rothna Begum. (HRW)
On International Workers’ Day, May 1, countries worldwide celebrate workers’ rights, and people take to the streets to call for better working conditions. Governments should also recognize people’s rights to safety and dignity in the world of work by ratifying the International Labour Organization (ILO) Violence and Harassment Convention (C190).
Adopted in 2019, the groundbreaking treaty lays out international legal standards for preventing and responding to violence and harassment at work. It requires governments to ensure comprehensive national laws against harassment and violence at work, including prevention measures, complaints mechanisms, monitoring, enforcement, and support for survivors; and laws obligating employers to maintain workplace policies against violence and harassment.
The treaty is comprehensive in who it covers: workers, trainees, workers whose employment has been terminated, job seekers, and job applicants. It also applies to both informal and formal sectors. The convention is a powerful tool in the fight to eliminate gender-based violence at work, as well as strengthening efforts to mitigate the effects of domestic violence in the world of work.
Human Rights Watch research has long documented the impact of violence and harassment at work, including in agriculture, domestic work, the garment sector, and the informal sector. The treaty requires special attention be paid to sectors that have a heightened risk of harassment, such as these.
As of writing, 12 countries have ratified the convention following hard-won campaigns by workers, trade unions, human rights and other organizations, and dialogue with employers and workers. San Marino ratified in April. The United Kingdom ratified in March, after advocacy by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), CARE, ActionAid, Human Rights Watch, and others. Argentina, Ecuador, Fiji, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, Namibia, Somalia, South Africa, and Uruguay have also ratified.
Legislatures in Albania, France, Mexico, Peru, and Spain all voted to authorize ratification of the treaty. Once these governments have officially deposited their ratifications at the ILO, 17 countries will have ratified.
Many countries committed to ratify and implement C190 at the UN Women’s Generation Equality Forum in 2021. These countries include Belgium, Iceland, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Senegal, Spain, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
Other countries like Finland and Sri Lanka have also publicly pledged to ratify C190. Trade unions and worker organizations – such as in Canada – are pushing for their governments to ratify.
States should prioritize to #RatifyC190 and to reform laws and policies in line with the convention. Likewise, employers should also put in place workplace policies and collective bargaining agreements in line with the treaty. We all have the right to safety and dignity in the world of work, no matter where we work and who we are.


View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook