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Sugar on the table: regional sugar network Latin America

Sharing participatory digital monitoring results


In Latin America a regional network of trade unions in the sugar sector has been established with support of CNV Internationaal to stand stronger together. Workers and union leaders from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Colombia and Bolivia met recently to strengthen their bond and share knowledge. 

Emphasis was on the participatory digital monitoring results, a unique approach developed by CNV Internationaal to collect data on workers in the sugar industry. 

The union leaders learned more about the Anker method to introduce living wages. They also talked to Bonsucro representatives about the renewed sustainability standard that opens the door for dialogue with workers, which for the first time includes the concept of a living wage.

Current concerns and issues such as minimum and living wage [link] and occupational health and safety [link] were further discussed. Stakeholders and experts, each from their own experience, raised fundamental issues for trade union work.


Watch the video with impressions and participants' reactions.


Renewed Bonsucro standard

Opening the door for dialogue with workers

Meeting attendees seized the opportunity to discuss and debate current issues, including the renewed Bonsucro standard to make sugar production more sustainable. Miguel Hernandez, Rafael Seixas, Paula de Donati Porto, Celine Ortlib of Bonsucro participated in a debate chaired by Francisco Martinez of CNV Internationaal. The topic of discussion was the use of certification. It became clear that it is highly necessary for sugar production workers to get proper training in using and the importance of the standard and certification.

Together with Bonsucro, it will be made sure that all those involved are aware of the improvements of the renewed Bonsucro standard and what the working condition consequences are. This includes in particular living wages, a new pillar within the Bonsucro certification. There was also a debate, led by the attendees from Honduras, about the Bonsucro complaints mechanisms and their effective application.

Fair pay

How are we doing in the sugar value chain?

The attendees discussed in depth together with Marcelo Delajara, researcher at the Anker Research Institute, about living wage and its calculation. It was explained how the calculation method developed by the Anker Institute works in calculating the living wage amount for each country represented at the meeting. 

Using a table of indicators, trade union leaders and workers were able to see how the values are established and which elements are taken into account in the calculation depending on the living conditions of each place.

The attendees were also introduced to the wage matrix developed by the IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative, which is a practical tool to compare the total wage received by workers in a specific geographical region with the living wage.


The voice of the workers

Unique approach to participatory digital monitoring

María Paula Quiceno and Laura Ocampo of CNV Internationaal explored the Labour Rights Observatory together with trade union representatives. This observatory to monitor labour rights is the result of their hard work together with the trade unions in setting up participatory digital monitoring. Since 2021, CNV Internationaal has been working in the sugar chain in Latin America with sugar workers in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. 

This monitoring exercise to collect data on sugar workers in the region is unique. The results are a relevant sample that teaches us where we should focus our attention on to improve the working and living conditions of sugar industry workers, even if the results are not necessarily representative for the whole sugar sector,

 This monitoring reveals that more than half of the respondents do not receive a living wage for their work. There is also a big difference in working conditions on all fronts between workers who have a direct contract and the many workers who have temporary/flexible contracts. And, there is still a significant number of occupational accidents, despite the apparently good health and safety conditions at work.


The results were discussed in detail with the trade union leaders involved during this sugar network meeting in June 2022 in Antigua, Guatemala. A round table discussion provided crucial information on how they can use the monitoring results in their trade union work. Thanks to the network, they can be better prepared and participate in social dialogue at more levels: 


Workers are an important player in the globalised sector, and initiatives like this network meeting, supported by CNV Internationaal, show that they are ready to take up their role in making the sugar chain more sustainable," says Maurice van Beers, regional coordinator Latin America of CNV Internationaal. 

The Latin American sugar sector is of great importance to the international market. It is essential that the workers are informed and involved in the initiatives that are undertaken to make the sugar sector increasingly sustainable in terms of working conditions.


Publication date 30 08 2022