Switzerland: peasants’ rights and free trade agreements


Press release

Declaration on the Rights of Peasants: Switzerland must harmonize foreign policy and international commitments

Lucerne, Bern, and Geneva, August 27, 2020 – The paradox is striking: peasants, the world’s main food providers, are the first to suffer from hunger and extreme poverty in many countries. Aware of this situation, the United Nations adopted a Declaration in 2018 to guarantee their rights. Switzerland is committed to implementing it. However, a study commissioned by several Swiss NGOs shows that its foreign policy leaves much to be desired in this area. These organizations have presented on Thursday the results of the study to the federal offices concerned.

Peasant family farming and people working in rural areas are the guardians of global food security but are also the main victims of hunger and extreme poverty. The agricultural and trade policies of many governments pay little attention to the rights and needs of peasants and rely on multinational agribusiness corporations for food.

The Swiss Confederation played a key role in the negotiations that led to the 2018 Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas – an international instrument that enables peasants to assert and defend their rights. Nevertheless, the study shows that the Confederation needs to improve the coherence of central areas of its foreign policy if it is to contribute to the realization of the rights of peasants worldwide.

The general direction is correct but much remains to be done.

The study commissioned by the organizations Action de Carême, CETIM, HEKS, FIAN Switzerland, Pain pour le prochain, SWISSAID, and Uniterre analyzes Swiss foreign policy in the areas of trade, seeds, land rights and development cooperation in the light of the UN Declaration. After identifying the gaps, they present a list of demands.

Although Switzerland is a proponent of free trade, it has nevertheless adopted certain measures to protect its agriculture. However, this Swiss-oriented policy is detrimental to family peasants in the countries of the South and runs counter to the rights guaranteed to them by the UN Declaration. It deprives countless people of their rights to land, biodiversity, and a clean and healthy environment, among others. It is therefore incumbent on Switzerland to carefully examine and determine the impact of free trade agreements, already in force or in preparation, on peasant families in Switzerland and in the signatory countries.

It is also about taking the initiative to promote the right of peasants to participate in negotiations and to modify the applicable rules accordingly. Furthermore, Switzerland must definitely recognize the right to seeds and stop making the signing of free trade agreements conditional on the enactment of strict plant variety protection laws.

Peasants have been breeding, using and reproducing seeds for thousands of years, thus contributing to the preservation of biodiversity. Through its development policy, Switzerland must promote the adoption of laws that respect and strengthen local peasants’ seed systems.

Furthermore, the study shows that the Federal Council’s new message on the international cooperation strategy for the period 2021 to 2024 only mentions the rights of peasants in the SDC’s Global Program for Food Security and that the important role given to the private sector poses a significant threat to the respect for human rights and customary land use. However, Switzerland must ensure that all SECO and SDC projects comply with the rights of peasants. The study recommends that international cooperation should help peasants to claim and exercise their rights in order to encourage and make effective their participation in decision-making processes and bodies. Moreover, it should support the constitution and promotion of peasant organizations, including at the national level.

The NGOs presented the results of the study in Thursday’s meeting with federal agencies, including the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Institute of Intellectual Property. They welcomed the openness of the politicians and look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue.

For more information:

Ester Wolf, responsible for the right at Pain pour le prochain, wolf@bfa-ppp.ch, 021 614 77 13, 076 481 06 01

Melik Özden, Director of CETIM, contact@cetim.ch, 022 731 59 63, 079 728 80 58.

Read the summary of the study in English

Read the full study in French

Categories Articles Press releases Rights of peasants
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