International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Plantation Workers by Definition: The Changing Relevance of the ILO’s Plantations Convention

International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Volume 17, issue 1 (2010), pages 51-71

Author: David Lincoln
Affiliation: Department of Sociology, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

ISSN: 0798-1759


Abstract

The ILO’s Plantations Convention is intended to provide a standard for plantation labour. The Plantations Convention defines plantations – and thus plantation labour – in terms of the production of specific crops in the tropics and subtropics. This paper examines world production of these crops over time to determine the proportions accounted for by labour in countries that have ratified the Plantations Convention. The Convention is shown to have limited reach, with only a minor proportion of plantation crops produced by labour in ratifying countries. The structural conditions under which the Convention’s purpose was formulated have altered and the plantation’s significance in the global division of labour has diminished. Although the ILO’s general approach to agricultural labour is consistent with changes in the sector, the Organisation nevertheless continues to apply its inappropriate definition of plantations in its attempts to extend the reach of the outdated Plantations Convention. The article contributes to an understanding of the complexity of applying labour standards in the parts of global value chains that are located in the global South. It points to the need for revisions to better serve the South’s export agricultural workers.

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