Living wage in sugarcane

Bonsucro is working to strengthen human rights and decent work in sugarcane farming and milling, which includes addressing wages for the most vulnerable people

Bonsucro is working to strengthen human rights and decent work in sugarcane farming and milling, which includes addressing wages for the most vulnerable people. Our 2021-26 Strategy sets out clear commitments for us to enhance our role as a platform for collaboration and drive collection action towards a living wage in the sugarcane sector.

What is living wage?

The Global Living Wage Coalition (GLWC) defines a living wage as:

“The remuneration received for a standard work week by a worker in a particular place sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for the worker and her or his family. Elements of a decent standard of living include food, water, housing, education, health care, transportation, clothing, and other essential needs including provision for unexpected events.”

Living wage differs from the minimum wage as it is based on the real cost of living. Living wage considers whether workers are earning enough money to buy the essential things they need to live such as food, clothing, and shelter. The concept of the living wage stems from the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, which states that every adult is entitled to work which provides sufficient income to sustain the livelihood of themself and their family.

Why is living wage important?

The International Labor Organization says that 300 million workers in emerging and developing countries earn less than US$1.90 per day. Without a living wage, people may be compelled to put their children into work instead of school. Low wages can lead to working excessive overtime hours or multiple jobs which increases the chance of accidents and injury at work, for example, longer hours working in fields will make people more prone to serious illnesses like chronic kidney disease caused by heat stress. People also may not be able to withstand crises such as ill-health.

What is Bonsucro doing to address living wage in the sugarcane sector?

In December 2021, Bonsucro joined the GLWC’s Global Living Wage Action Network as a supporting member. The network brings together sustainability systems, ISEAL, researchers, and other organisations to work together towards living wage action. Our involvement in the coalition will bring opportunities to connect with other members outside the sugarcane sector and learn from their experiences.

Additionally, we collaborated with the Platform Living Wage Financials (PLWF) and CNV Internationaal on the development of their roadmap for living wages in sugarcane. Our role included facilitating consultations with our members. The roadmap offers step by step approach that includes, assessing the wage gap – i.e. the difference between the living wage in a particular geography and the actual wages paid and forming a plan to promote living wages in the sugarcane sector.

We have set up an internal multi-stakeholder working group to advise our team and governance bodies on how to approach the issue of living wage in the sugarcane sector.

How does the Bonsucro Production Standard version 5.2 address living wage?

The Production Standard has always required the lowest-paid workers to earn the national minimum wage, and on average, Bonsucro certified farms pay 19% above the national minimum wage. However, the new Production Standard (v5.2) takes an important next step on wages. Indicator 2.2.6 asks operators to start collecting data on wages being paid to all direct workers on farms and at mills in the unit of certification.

The indicator is “aspirational” meaning that operators choose whether to meet the indicator or not. Those who do meet the indicator will be publicly showcased as going beyond minimum compliance. By introducing aspirational as a form of compliance means that those that are not yet ready to benchmark wages have more time to prepare to comply at a later date.

This data collection exercise will help operators and Bonsucro build an understanding of potential gaps between the actual wages being paid and the living wage applicable in the region.

How will the new indicator be implemented?

  1. To capture data on wages, we have partnered with the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) to test its Salary Matrix – a tool developed for other sustainability initiatives – within Bonsucro certification. As part of the roll-out of the Bonsucro Production Standard version 5.2, we will be providing training to our staff, the Bonsucro Living Wage Working Group, and our Licensed Certification Bodies on the IDH Salary Matrix, to ensure the infrastructure to collect, verify, and analyse wage data is in place.
  2. A proportion of the Bonsucro Impact Fund grants support collective action projects that advance the human rights agenda, including living wage.
  3. Our team, the Living Wage Working Group and our Members’ Council will work together to develop an incentives framework​ that rewards producers for achieving compliance with indicator 2.2.6 to benchmark prevailing wages to living wages.

Why do we need to work together?

Living wage is a complex topic and requires collaboration and shared responsibility along the value chain from producers to end users. The new Production Standard enables visibility on the gap between actual wages and living wages so that we, as a platform, are equipped with the most relevant up to date information to allow us to work together to promote the improvement of wages in sugarcane production.

Bonsucro’s Living Wage Working Group

The Bonsucro Living Wage Working Group is a multi-stakeholder group composed of Bonsucro members, partners, and experts. Membership remains open to any interested stakeholder. The Working Group was created and reports to the Bonsucro’s Members’ Council and has two main objectives:

  1. Provide views, advice, and informed opinions to the Members’ Council and Secretariat about the development, implementation, and application of living wages in the sugarcane sector and Bonsucro’s approach and impact.
  2. Facilitate and guide the implementation of the Bonsucro strategic plan and the Bonsucro Production Standard on living wage.

The Working Group has met five times since it was created in April 2022. One of the current priorities is to ensure all stakeholders have equal access to and understanding of the definition for Bonsucro, methodologies, and the practical implementation of the tools to measure living wages. The Working Group has invited several guest speakers from different agricultural sectors and sustainability initiatives, such as the Anker Research Institute, Fairtrade, ISEAL, and IDH, to learn about their experiences on living wage. These discussions have offered valuable insights and helped advise Bonsucro’s Members’ Council. By the end of 2023, the Working Group will receive training on the IDH Salary Matrix and will play a central role in testing the tool in its use within Bonsucro certification.

MemberOrganisationMembership CategoryCountry
Priya AgrawalUnileverBuyerNetherlands
Shahzad AmjadThal & Almoiz Group of IndustriesProducerPakistan
Maurice van BeersCNV InternationaalNGONetherlands
Alexandra BlandónIngenio San AntonioProducerNicaragua
Anthony EdmondsDonovale FarmsProducerSouth Africa
Juan Carlos Fernandez QuezadaAsociación de Azucareros del Istmo Centroamericano (AICA)Producer AssociationGuatemala
Tatiana GabarronRaizenProducerBrazil
Jason GlaserLa Isla Network
United States
Axel KollbergSystembolagetGovernment organisationSweden
Renato MachadoSocicanaProducer AssociationBrazil
Karan MengarGodavari BiorefineriesProducerIndia
Katie Morison
HersheyBuyerUnited States
Virginia PraganaControl UnionCertification BodyBrazil
Luis Fernando Salazar RosasUnión de Azucareros Latinoamericanos (UNALA)Producer AssociationGuatemala
Meredith SmithED&F ManTraderUK
Rachel StuhldreherDanoneBuyerUnited States
Madaleine WeldredgeHersheyBuyerUnited States
Jose Ricardo ChecheUsina São ManoelProducerBrazil

If you are interested in joining the Living Wage Working Group, email our Membership Manager, Rafael Seixas.