Pathways for advancing good work in food systems: Reflecting on the international Good Work for Good Food Forum

Susanna Klassen, Lydia Medland, Poppy Nicol, Hannah Pitt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The crucial roles that workers, especially seasonal and migrant workers, play in our food systems have come under renewed attention in recent years. The coronavirus pandemic resulted in food work­ers being recognized as critical or essential workers in many countries. In 2021, this coincided with the UN International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFV), highlighting the importance of horticul­tural crops to healthy lives globally. Yet, workers’ quality of life in this most labor-intensive form of food production is often disregarded, or in the case of the UN IYFV, misconstrued. The agriculture-migration nexus—on which food systems depend—remains recognized as a challenge, yet there is limited debate about how it could be ameliorated and a lack of articulation of desirable alternatives. While alternative food and peasant movements propose food system transformation and alternative labor futures based on agroecology, labor lawyers and other advocates propose regula­tion and formalization of workplace regimes to ensure fair working conditions. Most recently, a third pos­sibility has emerged from agri-tech innovators: a techno-centric future with far fewer agricultural work­ers. These three archetypes of agricultural labor futures (agroecological, formally regulated, and techno-centric) have the potential to leave food scholars and activists without a unified, coherent vision to advance. Addressing this gap, this paper reports and builds on insights harvested from the international Good Work for Good Food Forum, organized by the authors with the aim of shaping consensus on positive visions for work in food systems. About 40 scholar-activists across three continents discussed the current challenges facing food workers and crafted a collective vision for good food work. This vision is documented in the form of nine principles supported by a framework of seven enabling pathways. We conclude by em­pha­sizing the need for a people-centered incor­poration of technology and a re-valuation of food workers’ contributions to global food systems. We offer the vision as a collective platform for action to advocate for and organize with workers in food systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-265
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
tions across the food system and common struggles and structural inequities facing all food workers. As the organizers, we initially defined good food as healthy, culturally appropriate, accessible for all, and produced in ways that are ecologically sustainable and socially just. We also proposed a working definition of “good food work” to be expanded and refined through the Forum: decent jobs producing, processing, and distributing food, which are fairly rewarded and personally rewarding, with jobs and training accessible to all, in safety and with dignity. Registration was open, with participants invited through our professional networks and based on our knowledge of current scholarship exploring labor, work, and jobs in the food system. The program was designed to foster interactive discussions toward shared priorities for future action, and to establish global connections. Four speakers were invited to offer provocations on the topic drawing on their expertise and country contexts: Dr. Lucila Granada, Prof. Julie Guthman, Dr. Joanna Howe and Dr. Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern. Granada is the chief executive of the Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), a UK-based research and policy organization, and has extensive experience with feminist and labor organizations in Latin America. Guthman is a geographer, professor of social sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an award-winning scholar on agri-food capitalism, alternative food sytems, labor, and agricultural technologies. Howe is an associate professor at the Adelaide School of Law and a leading expert on the legal regulation of temporary labor migration. Minkoff-Zern is an associate professor of food studies at Syracuse University whose research explores the interactions between food and racial justice, labor movements, and transnational environmental and agricultural policy. Adminstra-tive and facilitation assistance for the Forum was provided by Cardiff University, supported by funding from a Sêr Cymru II Research Fellowship held by one of the organizers.

Funding Information:
This research was supported primarily by a Sêr Cymru II Fellowship part-funded by Cardiff University and the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government, as well as by a Social Sciences and Humanities Doctoral Fellowship, and a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the Authors.

Structured keywords

  • Food Justice Network
  • Migration Mobilities Bristol


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