Monthly Archives January 2020

Creative Development | Moving national narratives: artistic expressions of flight, refuge and belonging by Roy Huijsmans

Creative Development | Moving national narratives: artistic expressions of flight, refuge and belonging by Roy Huijsmans

National historiography often takes the form of a single story propagated by those in power, thereby muting alternative experiences of ordinary citizens of these celebrated events. In Laos, the country’s ...

Rural support for authoritarian populism is strong – but another way is possible by Ian Scoones

Rural support for authoritarian populism is strong – but another way is possible by Ian Scoones

While the rise of authoritarian populism continues, its rural dimension has been missed in most commentary. Whether it is because of land grabs, voracious extractivism, infrastructural neglect or lack of ...

Moving beyond women as victims in post-conflict peacebuilding efforts in Liberia by Christo Gorpudolo

Liberia, a war-torn country for much of the 1990s, initiated several post-conflict peacebuilding programmes with the hope of building sustainable peace. But a study of the Palava Hut Program as a transitional justice mechanism showed that such efforts can be thwarted by the reduction of women to victims of war. The opportunity to rebuild gender relations damaged during wars can be missed in the process. Besides rethinking the link between women and victimhood, women’s inclusion in peacebuilding programmes based on lived experiences can help to equalize men and women in the peacebuilding process, argues Christo Gorpudolo.

Gender is one of the most damaged relationships during war. War and masculinity re-establishes gender hierarchies, and even after the end of wars such oppressive gender relationships persist. Several post-conflict peacebuilding efforts have been initiated in Liberia following two civil wars that occurred between 1989 and 2003. Most notable amongst these peacebuilding efforts have been the development of document called ‘A Strategic Roadmap for National Healing, Peacebuilding and Reconciliation and the National Palava Hut Program. These efforts are major achievements that have set the pace for peacebuilding in the country. Yet, as important as these peacebuilding efforts seem, how gender is viewed and incorporated within the country’s transitional peacebuilding programmes remains problematic for efforts to build sustainable peace.

Solhjell and Sayndee (2016) assert that Liberia has dominate-subservient gender power relations, which limits the participation of the female gender in public discourses and also affects their bodily integrity by limiting their movement from one social class to the other, especially in public decision-making processes (Solhjell and Sayndee 2016: 12). These general societal perspectives and/or biases of gender roles in Liberia have been key sources for policies informing the transitional justice process.

Gender can be viewed as a social institution that establishes patterns of expectations for individuals, orders the social processes of everyday life, and is built into the major social organizations of society such as the economy, ideology, the family and politics. It is an entity in and of itself (Lorber 1996). In the case of Liberia’s peacebuilding efforts, gender is constructed mostly in terms of women’s numerical inclusion in post-conflict peacebuilding activities. This is based on the generally accepted notion that women form a large portion of those victimized in the civil wars. Therefore, policy makers assume that they should be integrated into the Palava Hut talks numerically to share their stories of survival and receive apologies for the crimes committed against them. Although this assertion could be true, viewing women’s participation based on the lens of victimhood also poses a danger.

As part of my Master’s research at the ISS, in 2019 I conducted a case study of Liberia’s National Palava Hut Program as a transitional justice mechanism. Using Scriven’s argumentation analysis, I  examined national policies that included the Palava Hut Program documents, related program evaluations and implementation reports, and the Strategic Roadmap for National Healing, Peacebuilding and Reconciliation. I specifically looked at issues of gender, including women’s representation in such policies. I found that victims in the studied documents generally referred to women and children. Based on this perception of women and children as victims, the documents advised that women should form part of the Palava Hut Talks to protect their rights that had been violated during the civil war and to address the ‘dishonour’ brought against them by the civil wars.

As important as those statements might sound, this fails to recognize the key role women played in ending direct violence in Liberia. Thus, women should be incorporated into the Palava Hut Program as significant stakeholders in Liberia’s peacebuilding process, not as victims. Viewing women as victims and men as perpetrators within the peacebuilding process can prevent the full realization of sustainable peace through peacebuilding efforts and hinders the possibility for the transitional era to be used as an opportunity to redefine existing gender relations. According to scholars like Catherine O’Rourke (2013), the extreme social disruption caused by political violence that a transitional justice era seeks to address can within the transitional era allow for some loosening of gender norms and create space for women to take up atypical gender roles. This can help reshape gender relations.

A way of approaching peacebuilding in Liberia in order to achieve a gender-just peacebuilding process would be to incorporate both men and women in the peacebuilding process based on their lived experiences—as equals and not necessarily according to a victim-perpetrator dichotomy. Considering lived experiences may help shift the focus of the Palava Hut Program past victims and perpetrators, thereby creating a deeper understanding of the conflict. This would also provide an opportunity to change gender-damaged relationships that persist in post-conflict societies, particularly Liberia.

Lorber, J. (1996) ‘Beyond the Binaries: Depolarizing the Categories of Sex, Sexuality, and Gender’, Socological Inquiry 66(2): 143-160.
O’Rourke, C. (2013) Gender Politics in Transitional Justice. Routledge.
Solhjell, R. and T.D. Sayndee (2016) ‘Gender-Based Violence and Access to Justice: Grand Bassa County, Liberia’


About the authors:

Christo Z. Gorpudolo is a graduate of Development Studies, Social Justice Perspectives (SJP) from the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS).


Image Credit: ©Pray the Devil Back to Hell on Wikimedia Commons

Inside Delhi’s Doorstep Public Services Delivery Scheme by Sushant Anand

Inside Delhi’s Doorstep Public Services Delivery Scheme by Sushant Anand

Informal brokers and middlemen are essential for the delivery of public services in India. In 2018, the government of Delhi launched a programme that seeks to formalise these informal public ...

EADI/ISS Series | Why gender matters to social movements by Stacey Scriver and G. Honor Fagan

EADI/ISS Series | Why gender matters to social movements by Stacey Scriver and G. Honor Fagan

There are right and left, radical and conservative social movements at work in today’s volatile and unequal world. Whether directed towards a transformative social justice agenda or not, social movements ...

EADI/ISS Series | Two faces of the automation revolution: impacts on working conditions of migrant labourers in the Dutch agri-food sector

by Tyler Williams, Oane Visser, Karin Astrid Siegmann and Petar Ivosevic

Rapid advances in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are enabling production increases in the Dutch agri-food sector, but are also creating harsh working conditions as the sector remains dependent on manual labour, while implementing new technologies. To ensure better working conditions for migrants forming the majority of manual labourers in this sector, ‘worker-friendly’ implementation of new technologies is necessary to limit the negative effects of the automation revolution.

The ‘Threat’ of Automation?

Decades-old debates about the extent of job loss induced by the automation revolution were re-ignited by the seminal work of Frey and Osborne (2013), who suggested large numbers of jobs would be replaced by automation. Where jobs are not lost, automation impacts labour conditions as facilities are geared towards the optimal use of new technology. Novel ICTs offer possibilities to increase labour productivity and to free workers from harsh and repetitive tasks (OECD 2018). Yet they also enable high levels of remote, covert monitoring and measurement of work, often resulting in increased work pressure and the risk of turning workplaces into ‘electronic sweatshops’ (Fernie and Metcalf 1998).

Ever since Keynes (1930) warned about “technological unemployment” in his essay ‘Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren’, tech innovations have been eliminating jobs across sectors (e.g., in manufacturing), while simultaneously leading to the creation of new types of work (e.g., machine engineers). However, the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ (Schwab 2016) currently taking place might differ from earlier ones: automation is accelerating, affecting a wider variety of jobs, and is now also penetrating sectors like agriculture. Likely candidates for new automation waves are ‘3D jobs’ (dirty, dangerous and demeaning) which are overrepresented in agriculture and often performed by migrant workers (manual mushroom picking, for example, which is physically demanding and carries myriad other risks like respiratory issues). Therefore, this sector – understudied in research on automation – deserves attention.

Farm Robots and Migrant Workers

‘Milking robots’, drones, and (semi-)automated tractors have appeared on farms in the U.S. and the EU. As the second largest exporter of agricultural products and the ‘Silicon Valley of Agriculture’ (Schultz 2017), the Netherlands is at the forefront of such innovations. Yet despite this position, Dutch agriculture still depends strongly on manual labour, as the complexity and variability of nature (crops, animals, soils, and weather) have hampered automation.

Technological innovation and the recourse to low-paid, flexible migrant labour in the Dutch agri-food sector both represent cost-saving responses to the increased market power by supermarkets (Distrifood 2019) and the financialisation of agriculture. A FNV (Federation of Dutch Trade Unions) representative asserted: “Employers see those people as machines […]. Employers need fingers, cheap fingers, if I may call it like that”[1].

However, an educated migrant workforce provides benefits to employers beyond ‘cheap fingers’. The majority of labour migrants from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), the largest group of migrant labour workers on Dutch soil (CBS 2019), hold a post-secondary education (Snel et al 2015: 524). As the Dutch are reluctant to do the low-paid 3D jobs, agriculture depends heavily on migrants from CEE countries, especially from Poland (Engbersen et al 2010). An estimated 30 percent of all CEE migrants in the Netherlands work in agri-food, contributing almost 2 billion euros to the country’s GDP in that sector (ABU 2018).

While technology can and does assist in and accelerate the harvesting process, this educated workforce can flexibly perform manifold tasks like identifying and communicating inconsistencies in products or processes to their supervisors, including plant illness, irregular production, etc. This makes them invaluable in improving agricultural production processes and output[2]. However, their working conditions remain precarious. Consequently, grasping the impact that technological innovations have on agriculture necessitates studying transnational labour.

To this end, ISS scholars – with the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) – initiated a research project titled ‘Technological change in the agro-food sector in the Netherlands: mapping the role and responses of CEE migrant workers’. So far, it has included interviews with organisations in the agri-food sector, trade unions, engineering/labour experts, and migrant workers; this formed the basis for the MA theses of Petar Ivosevic and Tyler Williams. First results were discussed during an ISS workshop with practitioners in December 2018, and a follow-up workshop will be held on 17 March 2020. In addition, two sessions on the topic will be organised at the 2020 EADI Conference taking place from 29 June to 2 July at the ISS.

Industry versus Workers

To date, the benefits of automation for industry and farm workers are highly unevenly distributed. For example, technologies such as (semi-)automated LED lighting allow for more crops to be grown indoors, accelerating crop growth and extending the growing season. This benefits the agricultural industry and supermarkets by leading to all-year production. It also initially improved agricultural labour conditions: workers received a more stable, year-round income and a reduction in time spent working outdoors in difficult weather conditions. However, these improvements also brought negative consequences for labourers. The workweek increased (from 40 to roughly 60 hours – occasionally 80 hours – per week), and smart LED-lighting technologies, sterile environments, and novel ways of conserving heat and humidity created harsher working conditions (cf. Pekkeriet 2019).

Moving Forward

 How can decent labour conditions for (migrant) farmworkers be ensured while further automation of agricultural workplaces takes place? First, further research involving (migrant) workers themselves, growers, and other practitioners is needed to inform policy. So far, policy debates on the future of agriculture have paid only scant attention to (migrant) workers and labour conditions. Farm labour ‘shortages’ in agriculture are often narrowly and one-sidedly discussed in terms of supposed ‘unwillingness’ to work in agriculture per se or the tendency of CEE migrants to return to their home countries where economic growth has picked up. Such a position ignores the harsh (and often insecure) working conditions or postulates them as a given. It strongly underestimates the (potential) role of ‘worker-friendly’ implementation of new technologies and decent labour conditions in shaping the quality (and attractiveness) of farm work. Support from Dutch labour unions – which have started to organise and include CEE migrant workers – could increase migrant workers’ voice. Insecure, dependent work arrangements, language problems, and fragmentation of the migrant workforce have thus far impeded migrants’ own collective action. Finally, food certifications in the Netherlands primarily target food safety and sustainability. Including social (labour-related) criteria would reward farms with sound labour conditions[3].

[1] FNV Representative. 18 June 2018, interviewed by Karin Astrid Siegmann and Petar Ivosevic.
[2] Municipality Westland Presentation, World Horticulture Centre, 19 February 2019.
[3] For instance, the pillar of fair food in the slow food manifesto includes respectful labour conditions.

This article is part of a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.

Photo-Tyler-image1About the authors:

Tyler Williams recently completed the ISS MA Development Studies’ track in Migration and Diversity and co-organised the abovementioned workshop.



Oane Visser (associate professor, Political Ecology research group, ISS) leads an international research project on the socio-economic effects of and responses to big data and automatization in


Karin Astrid Siegmann is a Senior Lecturer in Labour and Gender Economics at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), studying how precarious workers challenge marginalization of their labour.Photo-Petar-image1


Petar Ivosevic graduated from the ISS MA program in Development Studies in 2018, with a major in Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies.


Countering attempts to undermine the rule of law through lawfare in Suriname by Jeff Handmaker

Countering attempts to undermine the rule of law through lawfare in Suriname by Jeff Handmaker

In November 2019, an all-women panel of judges presiding over a decade-long court martial in Suriname convicted Desiré Delano Bouterse, the country’s current president, for international crimes that include torture ...

I am only well if you are well: can the Utu-Ubuntu philosophy help drive the acceptance of sexual and reproductive rights in Africa? by Joan Njagi

I am only well if you are well: can the Utu-Ubuntu philosophy help drive the acceptance of sexual and reproductive rights in Africa? by Joan Njagi

In the face of growing resistance of religious and conservative groups on the African continent to the advancement of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), this article discusses the ...

The bitter aftertaste of chocolate: why Ghana’s cocoa farmers are struggling to adhere to sustainable cocoa production standards by Adjoa Annan

Prompted by demands from consumers to know where the chocolate we eat comes from and how it is made, companies producing chocolate are increasingly investing in measures such as certification schemes and company-driven sustainability initiatives in an effort to make chocolate production more transparent and sustainable. However, cocoa farmers in Ghana are struggling to adhere to environmental standards for more sustainable cocoa production practices. Adjoa Annan explains why.

Consumers are more interested than ever to obtain information about the sustainability of cocoa beans, one of the main ingredients of chocolate, including the way in which it is sourced. At the farm gate level, where the sourcing of raw cocoa beans begins, Sustainable Cocoa Production (SCP) is increasingly promoted through the implementation of certification programmes and company-driven sustainability initiatives. These programmes attempt to enhance process quality through farmers’ adoption of production practices that focus on reducing environmental harm and including social considerations, such as paying a fair price for raw cocoa.

However, efforts to ensure SCP have been largely compromised by a lack of transparency and accountability of certification auditing systems [1] [2]. What is less known are the effects of undesirable incentives for cocoa farmers and a low level of knowledge transfer on their ability to ensure SCP. This article seeks to explain some of the barriers cocoa farmers face in adhering to environmental standards prescribed by the certification schemes they are subscribed to.

One objective of my PhD research on quality enhancement in Ghana’s cocoa sector is to examine how cocoa buyers control and promote process quality at the farm gate level. Two communities were selected for this study from the Adansi South and Amasie West districts in the Ashanti region, which accounts for one of the largest cocoa-producing regions in Ghana. Within the various cocoa-growing communities, different Licensed Buying Companies (LBCs) purchase cocoa beans. LBCs employ a purchasing clerk(s) who buys cocoa beans from farmers.[1]

For the purpose of the study, an LBC which implemented the UTZ certification scheme and a cooperative supplying cocoa beans through an international chocolate brand’s label that adopts Fairtrade principles into its sustainability programme were studied. Purchasing clerks, inspection officers facilitating the auditing of farms, and farmers enrolled in both UTZ and Fairtrade programmes were also interviewed. By using in-depth interviews, participant observation, and farm visits, training regarding the UTZ and Fairtrade environmental best practices and factors on farmers’ adoption and non-adoption of best practices were examined.

Empirical observations revealed some challenges compromising effective SCP. Farmers were not effectively trained on the UTZ and Fairtrade environmental best practices. In the case of the international chocolate brand studied, farmers were seemingly sporadically trained on Fairtrade best practices once or twice a year, during cooperative meetings. The LBC that implemented the UTZ certification scheme organized training for farmers only once annually. In both cases, group trainings held in classroom venues were not suitable for explaining certain best practices that demanded on-farm demonstrations. This led to farmers’ poor understanding and implementation of environmental best practices on farms.

Farmers enrolled in both certification schemes noted that they struggled to understand technical topics presented in training, especially related to agrochemical use, health and safety issues, and water and waste management. Consequently, some farmers did not properly adopt best practices such as removing rubbish and agrochemical bottles from farms and wearing safety clothing. Some farmers also struggled to understand the required measurement of agrochemicals.

Aside from poor training, farmers noted that adopting all environmental best practices was time-consuming. Low-price premiums paid to farmers served as a disincentive to adopt best practices. Farmers complained that the premiums received for enrolling in certification programmes were not sufficient to warrant their efforts[2]. These factors led to a low adoption rate on Fairtrade and UTZ certification environmental best practices. However, interviewed farmers felt that a premium increase and access to frequent on-farm training could enhance their efforts to adhere to sustainable production practices [3].

Overall, SCP was not effectively promoted in the various studied communities. Cocoa buyers did not seem to invest enough in the sourcing communities where they buy cocoa beans. In order to achieve sustainable chocolate, there should be an increased engagement of farmers to enhance the quality of cocoa bean sourcing processes. The needs of farmers should also be addressed to ensure cocoa farming as a sustainable livelihood. At present, this is not happening, which is leaving chocolate with a bitter aftertaste.

[1] In one of the studied communities, for instance, five different LBCs and nine different purchasing clerks were buying cocoa beans from farmers. There is competition over cocoa beans among purchasing clerks.

[2] As at 2018, the premium received by UTZ and Fairtrade farmers interviewed for this study in the studied communities was 1.4 USD and 1.6 USD, respectively per the standard 64kg bag of cocoa beans.

Fountain, & Hütz-Adams. (2015). Cocoa Barometer – Looking for a Living Income. Cocoa Barometer, 42–43.
Fountain, A., & Huetz-Adams, F. (2018). Cocoa Barometer.
In-depth interviews with farmers during data collection from July 2017 to March 2018 in Aponapon and Subiriso communities, Ashanti region, Ghana.

adjoa annan.jpgAbout the author:

Adjoa Annan is a PhD candidate at the Center for Development Research of the University of Bonn, Germany. Annan completed a Master’s degree in Development Studies at the ISS.