067 The Nexus between Migration and the Right to Food: the Case of Migrant Agricultural Workers

Insights from worrisome realities calling for urgent and effective policy responses


  • CFS Civil Society Mechanism


Migration and the right to food are interlinked in many ways. It is widely acknowledged that drivers and impacts of migration are intimately linked to the root causes of food security and malnutrition, rural poverty, inequality, conflicts and climate change. The side event will depart from a broader analysis on the multiple relationships between migration and the right to food but will then focus on one highly relevant and urgent aspect of the larger picture: the situation of migrant agricultural workers and the question, how their rights can be more effectively protected in the future.

According to ILO, an estimated 300-500 million waged workers are in engaged in agriculture worldwide. Many of the casual, seasonal and temporary agricultural workers are migrants. While it is recognized that agricultural workers carry out a vital role in the global food production, it is also true that many of them, particularly migrant workers, are unable to access adequate nutritious food for themselves and their families. Migrant agricultural workers, particularly women, are often exposed to multiple violations of their labor rights and exposed to difficult environments of disadvantages discrimination, and sometimes xenophobic attitudes and practices. A significant part of the migrant labor force in agriculture is young people: the challenges they face can hardly be overestimated and deserve political attention when dealing with the nexus between youth and food insecurity and malnutrition.

On the other side, the contributions of migrant workers for household food security and community development through remittances is impressive: according to the UN Secretary General's report of December 2017, remittances add up to three times the total of official development assistance.  FAO estimates that around 40% of international remittances are sent to rural areas, reflecting the rural origins of a large share of migrants.

In such context, the guiding question to which this side event will seek to find forward-looking responses is: what are the policies and measures to be taken to protect more effectively the rights of migrant agricultural workers, to particularly ensure safe and healthy working conditions, guarantee a living wage, decent work and freedom of association?

Key speakers/presenters

  • Martha Elena Federica Bárcena Coqui, Ambassador of Mexico to the UN Agencies in Rome
  • Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
  • Grazia Valentino, Consiglio per la Ricerca in Agricultura e l’Analisi dell’Economia Agraria (CREA)
  • Patrick Konde, Unione Sindacale di Base (USB)
  • Isabel Alvarez Vispo, Urgenci, CSM Coordination Committee member

Main themes/issues discussed 

  • Insights from worrisome realities on the situation of migrant workers;
  • Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on agricultural workers;
  • The Mexican case study;
  • The situation of migrant workers in Italy;
  • The peculiar situation of vulnerability of women migrant workers;
  • Call for a commitment of the institutions for effective actions to address the issue.


  • There is a paradoxical situation for agricultural workers who are of outstanding importance for food production but at the same time among the most food insecure in the world;
  • Human rights are indivisible and interconnected: workers have rights in relation to labor conditions, mostly developed within ILO, and also enjoy human rights more broadly Those rights cannot be separated;
  • Agricultural workers, and particularly migrant workers, face several barriers in achieving their right to food: 1) lack of living wages, formal labor contracts, and decent employment; 2) agricultural sector is particularly dangerous when the work implies the use of chemicals and pesticides: 3) lack of social protection; 4) work in conditions that foster discrimination, violence and exploitation.
  • In addition, migrants and undocumented workers suffer often from social exclusion, unpaid labor, restrictive movement, lack of access to justice, less bargaining power. Some international instruments like the International Convention on Migrant Workers could be an effective tool to face these issues, nevertheless, many governments are hesitant to ratify or implement these instruments.
  • The nexus between migration and right to food has many aspects: migration often results from food insecurity; and migration can result in increasing food insecurity; and food insecure communities have received considerable support through remittances of migrants abroad. In this sense, the issue of migration is of high relevance to the CFS.
  • The case of Mexico: Migration is a vast topic for Mexico, which is country of origin, transit and destination.  The number of migrants from Central American to Mexico is growing. These workers come from rural area where they have no food security, access to employment, social services. -It is essential to address the causes of migration, not the effects. In the past, there was a circular migration: workers would migrate for a season to go back to their home country afterwards. This dimension has been weakened and limited. It is important to recover it and to establish policies and agreements between countries pushing in this direction.
  • The Italian case: the majority of agricultural migrant workers are men and women, who left their countries as victims of war, conflict, and repression. Many of them have a contract, but this contract is not respected. Contracting firms should provide appropriate accommodation, decent salary, working conditions, transport and services. However, these duties are often not met, and public policies fail to ensure the implementation of workers’ rights. The lack of official data worsens the situation, making it impossible to have a real mirror of the reality.
  • Results of a CREA/Action Aid research on the conditions of women agricultural workers in Puglia (Italy), show that the number of female migrant workers has doubled in the last years.  A gender analysis of available statistics together with the field research show that the issues affecting migrant workers are worse when the workers are women. Women are increasingly engaged in agriculture but with poor or no contracts.  Given the nature of the contracts they are offered (contracts covering less than 51 days), they cannot access basic welfare services and are exposed to higher risk of poverty than men. Moreover, their invisibility exposes them to gender violence and discriminatory behaviors. 

Key take away messages

  • Migration is often an effect of food insecurity, can increase food insecurity, but also can contribute to food security through remittances.
  • Migrant workers’ rights are human rights. Lack of ratification and implementation of existing instruments represent a major obstacle to the realization of human rights for workers and migrants;
  • Public policies based on a human rights-based approach should support and offer a normative framework to migration. This way, migration can highly benefit everybody, the society and the migrants themselves;
  • Special attention should be given to women migrant workers and their rights as women;
  • Need for better monitoring processes and mechanisms at national and global level to ensure that working contract terms are in line with international standards and respected;
  • It is important to rediscover the concept of circular migration and to acknowledge that migration has been an inherent part of human history, society and progress in all centuries and continents. 
CFS - Side Event 067: The Nexus between Migration and the Right to Food: the Case of Migrant Agricultural Workers