FRC hosts joint FRC/Sustain roundtable on food, jobs and work

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FRC hosts joint FRC/Sustain roundtable on food, jobs and work

Food, jobs and work workshop

On the 20th April, FRC and Sustain held a joint roundtable on “Where next on food, jobs and work?”. 27 people attended this in total including 8 academics, representatives from 13 CSOs and a media representative. Professor Tim Lang, Founder and Special Adviser to the FRC, City University, chaired the event.

The roundtable began with three presentations from authors working on briefing papers for the FRC. Stephen Devlin from NEF Consulting presented his paper, “Agricultural Labour in the UK”. This is a joint paper for FRC and Sustain and looks at the current size and relative importance of the UK agricultural labour force and the forces likely to impact on this as technology and international relations change in the future.

Dr Michael Heasman (The University of Bradford) and Dr Adrian Morley (Manchester Metropolitan University) presented initial findings on the UK food processing labour market, in a presentation entitled, “Work, jobs and skills in UK food manufacturing”. The workshop gave these authors the opportunity to refine their research ideas before writing these up into an FRC briefing paper which was published following the event in May 2017.

The third speaker was Lindy Sharpe from the Centre for Food Policy, City University. Lindy used the space to explore initial ideas for a research strand on pay disparities in the food supply sector. The main thrust of this initiative is to question why little is known or done on high pay and pay ratios in the food industry and whether it is really necessary for many to accept low pay in order to allow others to receive high pay rates.

Later debate on these issues was lively: a number of key themes for further exploration arose.

1. Data: is the data available from DEFRA and ONS clear on what it does include and is its coverage sufficiently encompassing to make it reliable?
2. Definitions: is it acceptable to refer to workers as ‘unskilled’ or is this not in itself derogatory?
3. Pay ratios: is the current ratio between low and high earners acceptable?
4. Household impacts: households are both producers and consumers. If higher pay leads to higher food prices, households are no better off.
5. A systems approach to research: It’s not just about wages but the full system of wages, land and capital ownership and food prices and how these interact.
6. Deregulation: how much is too much and how does this impact food safety and public health?
7. Gender: many food jobs are done by women. Are women’s groups sufficiently represented in employment debates?
8. Food for food workers: what do we know of the diets of those employed in the food sector, including those employed in transport and logistics?
9. Link between wages and food prices: do higher wages necessarily mean higher food prices?
10. R & D and investment: to what extent is this lacking in the food industry?
11. Ethics: can we justify eating food produced by those on extremely low wages?
12. Forward agenda: the need for a common agenda to drive through a number of key points.

The first two papers from the event will be available on the FRC website by July 2016. A third paper on pay disparities may be published in the autumn. For further information on this event, please contact Dr Victoria Schoen, FRC Research Fellow (victoria.schoen.1@city.ac.uk).

List of attendees

Katy Cooper, C3 Collaborating for Health
Jane Dixon, City University
Lindy Sharpe, City University
Dan Crossley, Food Ethics Council
Robin Hinks, Food Foundation
Mary Atkinson, FRC
Corinna Hawkes, FRC
Tim Lang, FRC
Victoria Schoen, FRC
Rebecca Laughton, Landworkers Alliance
Caroline Reilly, Living Wage Foundation
Adrian Morley, Manchester Metropolitan University
David Powell, New Economics Foundation
Stephen Devlin, NEF Consulting
Nic Lampkin, Organic Research Centre
Rachel Harries, Soil Association, organic apprenticeship programme
Kath Dalmeny, Sustain
Felicity Lawrence, The Guardian
Tom Wills, Traidcraft
Bea Adi, Unison
Paul Bell, Unison
Michael Heasman, University of Bradford
Steffen Boehm, University of Exeter
Sam Scott, University of Gloucestershire
Charles Scott, Farm Business Survey, University of Newcastle
Vicki Hird, War on Want

1 Comment

  1. Liz Dowler says:

    Excellent you held this event and have published the briefing – it’s not a new topic of course but some critical new thinking on what can be done is long overdue. I’m aware that most food purchasers are likely to say ‘what could I do, I’m only one person/household, it needs regulation’ etc. But there is evidence from other fields that people’s responses, perhaps more as citizens than consumers, can play a part in changing what has been hitherto normative, acceptable behaviour – maybe there is room for manoeuvre here too. Note recent Guardian article about poor pay rates and conditions of work for couriers of online purchases (the issue isn’t a million miles from this one) and evidence that, once their attention had been drawn to the bad circumstances, some regular customers changed their sourcing and thus practice. They would presumably also push for change. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/may/30/couriers-britains-shopping-addiction-online-low-pay (Felicity Lawrence was present and would know about all this of course.)

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