Pathways for advancing good work in food systems

Reflecting on the international Good Work for Good Food Forum




Labor, Food Workers, Good Food, Good Work, Decent Work, Migrant Workers, Agri-tech, Food Justice, Horticulture


The crucial roles that workers, especially seasonal and migrant workers, play in our food systems have come under renewed attention in recent years. The coronavirus pandemic resulted in food work­ers being recognized as critical or essential workers in many countries. In 2021, this coincided with the UN International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFV), highlighting the importance of horticul­tural crops to healthy lives globally. Yet, workers’ quality of life in this most labor-intensive form of food production is often disregarded, or in the case of the UN IYFV, misconstrued. The agriculture-migration nexus—on which food systems depend—remains recognized as a challenge, yet there is limited debate about how it could be ameliorated and a lack of articulation of desirable alternatives. While alternative food and peasant movements propose food system transformation and alternative labor futures based on agroecology, labor lawyers and other advocates propose regula­tion and formalization of workplace regimes to ensure fair working conditions. Most recently, a third pos­sibility has emerged from agri-tech innovators: a techno-centric future with far fewer agricultural work­ers. These three archetypes of agricultural labor futures (agroecological, formally regulated, and techno-centric) have the potential to leave food scholars and activists without a unified, coherent vision to advance. Addressing this gap, this paper reports and builds on insights harvested from the international Good Work for Good Food Forum, organized by the authors with the aim of shaping consensus on positive visions for work in food systems. About 40 scholar-activists across three continents discussed the current challenges facing food workers and crafted a collective vision for good food work. This vision is documented in the form of nine principles supported by a framework of seven enabling pathways. We conclude by em­pha­sizing the need for a people-centered incor­poration of technology and a re-valuation of food workers’ contributions to global food systems. We offer the vision as a collective platform for action to advocate for and organize with workers in food systems.


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Author Biographies

Susanna Klassen, University of British Columbia

PhD Candidate; Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. Susanna Klassen is now Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria.

Lydia Medland, University of Bristol

Senior Research Associate, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies

Poppy Nicol, Cardiff University

Research Associate, Sustainable Places Research Institute. Poppy Nicol is now a research affiliate at WISERD sbarc|spark, Cardiff, Wales.

Hannah Pitt, Cardiff University

Lecturer, School of Geography and Planning



How to Cite

Klassen, S., Medland, L., Nicol, P., & Pitt, H. (2023). Pathways for advancing good work in food systems: Reflecting on the international Good Work for Good Food Forum. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 12(2), 249–265.