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UNHRC says food injustice widely present before pandemic

The Human Rights Council recognizes that the world was already falling behind on realizing the right to food before the current pandemic, evidencing the need for food systems’ transformation.

In a resolution on the right to food adopted today, the Human Rights Council (HRC) expressed deep concern that the total number of people suffering from acute hunger has doubled since the pandemic began, while at the same time recognizing this is a trend predating COVID-19, beginning in 2015.  The Council also acknowledged the links between human rights, trade policy, food systems and global governance  and requested the world’s governments to re-consider policies that hinder the realization of the right to food.

The resolution has come weeks after the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fakhri, presented the first report of his tenure, where he shed light on the impacts of COVID-19 policies on more vulnerable communities and rural peoples. Fakhri also raised concerns over the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit, which has been contested by hundreds of civil society, farmers and indigenous organizations 

COVID-19 policies falling short of expectations.

As echoed in Fakhri’s report, some measures imposed by governments to contain the spread of COVID-19 have been oblivious to the realities of wide segments of the population.  Restrictions have disrupted the possibility to work, and without income or means to earn an income, there is no food, or, at best, less food and less nutritious food.

“People do not have access to food because nearly half of the world’s 3.3 billion global workforce are at risk of losing their livelihoods. Informal economy workers, migrant workers and other marginalized people are particularly vulnerable because the majority lack social protection and access to quality health care,” highlights the report.


Already in April 2020, FIAN International warned about the immediate impacts and potential medium-term risks of such measures: from leaving millions of children without schools meals after closing down schools, to strengthening supermarket services while shutting down local markets and cooperatives. This, FIAN International’s has reiterated, is the result of not applying a human rights framework to COVID-19 and public policies.   

These findings have been further underlined by the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM), as they have been calling for a transformation of corporate food systems.

“Evidence collected on the ground around the world confirms that the pandemic brought existing inequalities and vulnerabilities into sharp relief and underscored the need for systemic change towards socially just food systems with agency, sustainability and stability at its heart,” they assert in their latest report ‘Voices from the Ground’.

Real transformation with current Food Systems Summit?

The resolution alludes to the Food Systems Summit and its potential role in ensuring the realization of the right to food. Hopes that the Summit, scheduled for this year, will ignite the necessary systemic change have evaporated among civil society as the Summit plans have been unveiled. Months before the announcement of the Summit, the UN Deputy Secretary-General signed a strategic partnership agreement with the World Economic Forum that was heavily criticized by civil society but ignored by António Guterres. This partnership has mounted fears that big business will strengthen its influence on global food politics.

Fakhri wrote to UN Special Envoy to the Summit Agnes Kalibata last January pointing that the summit appeared to focus on science and technology, money and markets, and did not address “fundamental questions of inequality, accountability and governance”. Indeed, in his report presented at the UNHRC, he described the Summit as “distorted towards market based solutions to food systems”. 

Tensions persist and last February more than 200 civil society and Indigenous peoples’ organizations have announced  in a letter to Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) they will not participate in the Summit unless their demands are met. Among them, the signatories of this letter are urging the summit organizers to include an action track on ‘corporate capture’, a move that would make more evident and help reverse the undue influence of big business on food and nutrition policies.

The current state of hunger and malnutrition illustrates the urgent need to transform corporate food systems. But food systems transformation requires real people`s participation, where the wellbeing of people and planet take center stage. This transformation therefore requires strong safeguards against conflicts of interest and the regulation of corporate activities. 

Food is a fundamental human right and not a tradeable good, which can be left to market-based solutions.

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