Belgium joins the Netherlands and Germany in signing the joint declaration on living wage and living income. Only when smallholders also achieve a living income can we address major challenges such as poverty, climate change and child labour.
There is a lot going on in the field of ‘sustainable supply chains’. This includes ensuring that the entire supply chain of a product - for example, a bar of chocolate - does not give rise to child labour or environmental damage. Moreover, each link in the chain has the right to decent work and a living income
And such a living income goes beyond making ends meet. It also means that a family can not only provide for its food, housing, health care, education, transport and other essentials, but also can maintain sufficient reserves.
A living wage is actually nothing less than a human right, as included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular Article 23: "Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity." It is also part of the international agenda for decent work, a legal priority of the Belgian Development Co-operation.
But after many years of financial and technical support, round tables and UN declarations, many producers at the beginning of a supply chain still find it difficult to make a living from their craft. Hence, in June 2022, Minister of Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir joined Germany and the Netherlands in signing the joint declaration on living wage and living income
"Providing a living wage to local producers at the beginning of a supply chain is a smart investment," Minister Kitir stressed during the High Level Meeting on Living Income and Living Wage in Berlin. “An investment which can yield a lot, both in terms of social and economic capital. Otherwise, what future awaits the 82% of workers in sub-Saharan Africa who do not yet enjoy social protection? Decent work makes the supply chain more robust and increases productivity."
Nor can we tackle climate change at its root without a living income for all. Indeed, small farmers who can barely make ends meet often have no choice but to resort to deforestation and child labour.
The declaration proposes a number of actions such as a dialogue between consuming and producing countries with regard to an adequate minimum income, support for the International Labour Organization (ILO) in order to develop cost-of-living indicators, and support for social dialogue which will empower workers in producing countries. She also suggested working together to put the issue on the agenda of the European legislature.
Needless to say, our country also fully supports the proposed EU directive on due diligence and wants an ambitious legal framework within the EU. "This legislation, above all, must lead to real change on the ground," the Minister said.
Belgium is already making considerable efforts in the area of sustainable supply chains and decent work, including at the international level. Our country also supports fair trade associations and organisations like IDH and The Shift which work with the private sector and knowledge institutions in order to make chains more sustainable. Along with other European countries, Belgium is also active in African countries such as Rwanda, DR Congo, the Ivory Coast and Senegal.
IDH is particularly active in the area of living wages, including through the Better Jobs Accelerator Fund. The organisation also arranged the Living Income Summit in Amsterdam in June 2022, to be followed by another one in Brussels in the autumn. Through the Trade for Development Centre (Enabel), our country is testing innovative approaches in the Ivory Coast. By paying for environmental services, we are trying to increase the income of cocoa farmers there.
The Belgian flagship is without a doubt Beyond Chocolate which our country launched in 2018. Through this partnership, the Belgian chocolate sector committed itself to producing and selling only certified chocolate in Belgium by 2025. By 2030, all the producers of the cocoa and chocolate which Belgium imports must enjoy a living income, and all imported cocoa and chocolate must be produced without deforestation.
By signing the declaration, our country has further highlighted its commitment to a living income. "We need to meet today's needs without putting future generations at risk. Therefore, a living income should become the norm. We cannot handle that alone, we need to inspire companies, multilateral organisations and other countries to do the same," concluded Minister Kitir at the conference in Berlin.