Are we willing (and able) to pay for fair food 200



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This week, ABC’s Four Corners uncovered the slave labour embedded in our food system. Asian migrant workers with legal visas are subjected to horrific conditions that defy the wholesome image most Australians like to believe represents our agricultural heritage.

Four Corners spoke to workers from Korea and Taiwan who were forced to work unreasonably long hours, live and work in horrible conditions, had pay withheld by labour-hire agents, were denied bathroom breaks, and were even sexually abused. And the mistreatment of workers isn’t limited to a handful of unscrupulous producers — union officials, politicians, even farmers agree slave labour is rife here in Australia.

Implicated in the scandal are most of Australia’s largest food suppliers, including Coles, Woolworths and Aldi supermarkets plus fast-food outlets KFC and Red Rooster. A representative from National Union of Workers, SA, was able to rattle off the known unfair work practices of the suppliers listed on every item the journalist picked up in the supermarket.

If you haven’t seen the program, catch it here (you’ll never look at a pot of KFC coleslaw the same again).

So who’s responsible for the treatment of workers?

February’s frozen berry contamination scandal made it clear that Australians want to buy Australian produce; it also reminded us that homegrown food is expensive. And, as Professor Bill Bellotti points out in The Conversation, it’s hard to argue against lower food prices when the cost of food has increased 34% over the past decade.

The huge part of this cost is labour, and with increasing downward pressure on food prices and upward pressure on wages, farmers admitted to Four Corners they are willing to turn a blind eye to the finer details of labour recruitment.

Many organic and smaller farms in Australia rely on free labour, which comes from agriculture students, people wanting to learn more about sustainable farming practices, or travellers under the Willing Workers on Organic Farms scheme who agree to work for free in return for food, board and the experience. But large-scale producers supplying the ever-hungry supermarkets can’t afford to rely on the goodwill of volunteers; not when there are quotas to be met.

So who is responsible for ensuring all workers are paid and treated fairly? Is it the farmers? The suppliers? The supermarkets? Or does it come down to us, the consumers?

Professor Bellotti says we have a role to play: “Part of the long-term solution lies in more food consumers becoming food literate and empowered to exercise their influence as consumers. Ultimately it is you, the consumer, that drives modern food supply chains.”

When it comes to choosing ethical food, the only guarantees available are Organic and Fair Trade certification. Another option is to source meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables directly from farmers via farmers markets where you can ask questions and get answers direct from the producer, or “consumer supported agriculture” schemes such as Food Connect. However these options tend to be more expensive and less convenient than shopping at the supermarket.

Are you willing to pay more for food if it means the person who picked or packed it was treated fairly? And can you afford to pay the price if it means no slave labour in Australia?  

Starts at 60 Writers

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  1. Did not buy veges today could notvbuy slave labour food will go without

    2 REPLY
    • No did not buy any, last week bought potatoes but half of them were rotten in side and bought Bananas for 2Dollars a kg on Sunday the same stand with the sign only then they were on sale for $2-50 so on the weekend fifty cents more for the rotten and black inside bananas wich I brought two days before from the big store.

  2. I must say in a country that doesn’t shock me anymore, this is a shock. How can we do this to anyone, regardless? If the government knows, why are they not stopping it? In Tasmania, there are lots of seasonal jobs in the growing industry. Lots of times, owners can’t fill the jobs because it is hard work. They say it is hard work for a good days pay. Surely the conditions shouldn’t be like this and to say it is because it will keep the produce cheaper – don’t believe it for a minute!!!! If I knew this was going on somewhere in Tassie, I would certainly not be backward in coming forward and letting everyone know.

  3. But in this 4 corners ABC program, non-Asian workers were paid and treated correctly ( most of the time). It was the Asians who were underpaid by the contractor. Surely the farmer knew he was paying the contractor less to have Asians working as pickers? Yes, I would pay more for my fruit & vegs !!! But not supplied by the businesses named in the program .

  4. Of course, an honest price can’t be quibbled with. I hope they prosecute these slave masters. I especially would like charges to be made against the farmers offering to extend visas for sex with young girls. Disgusting, hope their wives walk.

  5. I am surprised that the emphasis is on people being willing to pay more instead of businesses being willing to make less profit at the expense of workers

  6. I was ashamed when I saw the program. I messaged Coles and Woolworths. At least Woolworths got back to me, but not Coles. Woolworths tried to distance themselves from what was happening. Something needs to be done!!!

  7. The farmers were paying the correct wage (in most cases) the agent was skimming off the cream. Therefore we shouldn’t need to pay extra, just use honest agents.

    6 REPLY
    • I agree, let the government crack down on the agent/contractor not necessarily the farmer’s fault the wages are so low.

    • Yes , start with the agents who skim approx one third of the wage.This must be investigated at a higher level. I am left wondering where I can buy my produce.

    • And the farmers don’t know whats going on? Yeah right I worked for some of these slave driving bastards when I was young. I said then the day would come when they would not be able to attract workers and it is here now. And it is not only a wage problem, it is the way they speak to and treat their workers.

    • Most people (even if they live in a high rise flat) can grow their own veggies. Save on transport costs, and save having to eat food with who knows what chemicals sprayed on it.

    • We had friends in the Burdekin who were vege growers. The Workers sent to them by centrelink worked until about 10.00am and them said the work was too hard. The backpacker workers worked all day within the allocated hours. Another farmer actually provided caravan accommodation for his employrees most of whome were from Israel.

  8. Why do we have to pay for there mistakes it’s the rouges that run these things it also so happens in the U K can’t the government see or do they just turn a blind eye nothing has changed over the years and never will because it’s just one corrupt would

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