Living Wage Lab: The Five Year Spectacle

19th November 2020, the day that marked the five-year anniversary of our Living Wage Lab! Setting the stage for great speakers who shared visionary insights into the past, present and future of living wages and incomes, the event was a reminder of the importance of the shared mission for agri-food enthusiasts who joined us from around the world. 

Visit our YouTube channel to view all the clips from this event.

19th November 2020, for most of the world it was just another home stuck Thursday during this pandemic. But for the agri-food sustainability aficionados, something great was in preparation at the KIT Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam. Inspiring leaders from the field of living wage and income took to the stage to celebrate the five-year anniversary of the Living Wage Lab, a platform founded five years ago by Fairfood and Hivos to experiment and co-create strategies and plans to realise living wages in global agri-food supply chains. 

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Joining us on this celebration were viewers from all around the world, eager to listen to the insightful stories and to find answers to the questions that no internet search could give answers to. Ready to liaise this journey was Dr. Lea Esterhuizen, Founder of &Wider and an expert researcher in the field of human rights.

In retrospect

The broadcast kicked off with a retrospection into the past years of the Lab with the founding organisations. On the dais was Sander de Jong, Director of Fairfood and Caroline Wildeman, Global Campaign Coordinator at Hivos, to talk about new developments and innovations that helped Lab partners solve complex challenges and share the transferable lessons that will pave the way for the future. More than numerical answers, the Living Wage Lab has also grown into an inclusive community of more than 300 participants who are there to support each other on their journey towards living wages.

This sense of collaboration has grown beyond the borders of Europe to Malawi from where Bernard Mphepo (Centre for Social Concern) joined us. Representing a country where farmers earn a wage that is much less than what’s needed to sustain, Bernard couldn’t stress more on the need to create a platform that will allow farmers to amplify their voice to the government and the employers. This need was also reciprocated by Mervyn Abrahams, Programme Coordinator, Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group and Neil Coleman, Co-Director, Institute for Economic Justice, who came to meet us virtually on this auspicious day. Mervyn also opened our eyes with the fact of how living costs have risen despite the pandemic, and even devastatingly, how the minimum wages fail to meet the inflation. Adding to this point was Neil’s saddening but true words of how black workers are becoming synonymous to cheap labour in the global supply chain. And for such a community, the fight for living wages is not just about financial gains but a way to take back their dignity and a confrontation to the racial inequalities that have dominated this world for centuries.

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Trailblazers

The need to bring justice to such issues are not the holy mantra for just social activists and trade unions, but also for some socially responsible businesses who are laying the foundations of implementing living wages in their supply chain. Such a trailblazer is Trabocca and with their journey came Sander Reuderink, Commercial Director of the organisation. Trabocca’s everyday efforts are to make sure that their coffee producers in Ethiopia earn a living wage. As Sander says: “The price they have received has been too low for too long.” To reverse this, Trabocca has been working with Fairfood to bring transparency in their supply chain so that an adjusted model can be created tailoring to every family’s needs.

On the list of Dutch leaders is another Lab partner: Eosta. Gert-Jan Lieffering, Quality Development Manager at Eosta shared the learnings and challenges that the company faced in realising living wages and incomes – how social auditing helps in identifying the issues in your supply chain, the importance of having good relationship with the suppliers and the mindset to learn by doing, all made to Gert’s recommendations for the future. 

Retrospections are never complete without looking into the entirety. To bring us the perspective of another important actor of a supply chain, the retailers, was Jennifer Muller, Sustainability Manager at CBL. With a handful of learnings from the Dutch retailers commitment in the banana sector, Jennifer shared with us the importance of using the tools that are currently available and the significance of creating leverage with retailers worldwide to achieve the big goal. What caught the attention was her advice for the future: “Make a start and start reaching out to players who can help you with that.”

Learning from other industries

The fashion industry has recently created a wave in the media on the topic of living wages and incomes. For sure Fair Wear Foundation has had a great role to play here. Understanding the need to incorporate insights from the sector into agri-food solutions, we welcomed Paula de Beer, Living Wage Officer at Fair Wear Foundation. Paula’s words revolved around three important features in realising living wages and incomes – money, social dialogue, accountability. She drew all our attention to the necessity to bring workers to the negotiation table, ways to raise money and ideas to make sure that it reaches the right hands.

Even though the past hour had brought in diverse voices, there was one actor that everyone was waiting to hear about – the government. To put the Dutch government’s perspective to the fore, Jos Huber, Senior Policy Advisor for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, came to the spotlight. Jos explained the Government’s efforts in setting the agenda, funding programmes, promoting agreements and responsible business conducts in the field of living wages and incomes. With her enthusiasm, she promised the crowd that the 2030 horizon in line with reaching the SDGs is something we can all look forward to.

Post-pandemic

With thought-provoking lessons, promising initiatives and broad-spectrum acumen, there was no better way to celebrate the five-years of our Living Wage Lab. And to put a great ending to the wonderful afternoon was a great question we are all still finding answers to: “What happens after the pandemic?” Luckily, we found the right person to guide us to the unknown future. Noura Hanna, a Board Member of Global Living Wage Coalition and a human right activist herself wanted to tell nothing more but “to act now”. The financial impact of the pandemic has been heavy for the whole world, but it is unbearable for the farmers who have lived their entire life with poverty wages. But on a bright side, the slow-running economy is providing us with a great opportunity to fix the flaws that we have so far turned a deaf ear to and build a resilient system that will ensure a better livelihood for the entire humanity. And for the Living Wage Lab, that is what our efforts in the coming years will contribute to.

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