FoHRC General Information
Food, Human Rights and Corporations (FoHRC)'s main focus is to explore how various human rights mechanisms/instruments, such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, can be used to promote corporate respect for human rights in the food sector and strengthen governments’ protective obligations vis-à-vis the rights to adequate food and health for all.
Origins and focus
FoHRC grew out of a series of activities in 2014 under the University of Oslo interfaculty LEVE (Livelihood in Developing Countries) network to shed light on the new opportunity to harness the food industry to respect human rights through implementing the UN Guiding Principles and Business and Human Rights from 2011.
FoHRC seeks to promote attention, from a human rights perspective, to the consequences for livelihood and public health of several policies and practices of multi/transnational food and beverage industries over a large spectrum. At the one end, the presence of corporations in food production through marketing of seeds, pesticides etc, but also corporate land acquisitions, may negatively affect local tenure rights to land, forests and fisheries, access to markets, and livelihoods. At the other end, the access to and marketing by food companies of unhealthy, ultraprocessed “junk” food and products in conflict with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, can have direct consequences for individuals’ health and nutritional status.
Towards greater respect for human rights by the corporate food sector?
How and where food is produced, processed, distributed and accessed has implications for the health and livelihood of people, regardless of where they live. Food is necessary to live and is central to health and disease. The food systems, or the infrastructures that enable the delivery of food from farm to mouth, can contribute to the health, economic and social well-being of communities, cities and regions.
But these systems can also to a large extent determine and threaten the livelihoods, health and wellbeing of different groups of people. The important role of the multi/transnational food and beverage industry – often named ‘Big Food’ - in this context cannot be overestimated.
Major corporations are increasingly becoming the main determining agents both of agricultural policies and food supplies. They may thereby have an increasing impact on the determinants of the livelihood of producers and the health of consumers. The catch-concept “nutrition-sensitive agriculture” must take these linkages into account.
Serious undernutrition persists in many parts of the world, in some contexts resulting corporate activities depriving them of their traditional livelihood. On the other hand, increasing obesity and related chronic diseases can in large parts of the world and within both poor and rich societies can to some extent be traced back to undesirable corporate behaviour in the food sector.
Both land acquisition without compensation, developing and monopolising new seeds and reducing genetic variety, profit often dominating over health goals in the processing industry, and unethical marketing of many unhealthy food products are included in such behaviour.
The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were developed by the UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie, between 2005 and 2011. They were adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011. They are subject to high interest by governments, civil society as well as corporations themselves. Major human rights in focus include labour conditions, child labour, impacts on the environment by extractive industries, etc. Less attention has been given to the public health consequences of various industrial behaviour vis-à-vis the content of marketed foodstuffs and often unethical ways of marketing unhelthy foods and beverages especially to children. FoHRC will seek to stimulate research and information in the borderland between law and public health nutrition in the corporate food sector.
Mode of work, institutional affiliations and organization of FoHRC
FoHRC’s niche is to serve as a “hub” between various disciplines and sectors to bridge the gap of knowledge and contact between scholars and students within law, social sciences, agriculture and food sciences and public health especially public health nutrition – gathering around the role of the corporate sector in generating or preventing malnutrition in all forms. It will function as a support group for master and PhD students who have chosen to work on issues within the sphere of interests of FoHRC, and stimulate established researchers to help develop the interdisciplinary research area where cross-over conceptualisations and methodologies are much-needed.
Members of the FoHRC Core Group as well as its more extended national and international scholarly and NGO network combine expertise in human rights law, development, and food and nutrition security. Many have a long familiarity with actors in the various relevant parts of the United Nations system that play a role in the (rights-based and not rights based) debate, lobbying, communication and research around the need for governments and corporations alike, to show respect for and protect livelihoods and public health as impacted by corporate interests and practice.
The right to food and right to health movements have been characterized by close collabortion between academic and civil society organizations. Academically based, FoHRC carries forward this tradition by joining forces where relevant with NGOs posessing special expertise and experience in the field.
The interplay between the human rights to adequate food/ the right to health with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals will be a thread through FoHRC’s programme of seminars and other activities in 2016.