Food, drink and tobacco sector

The Food and Drink sector provides safe, quality, healthy and affordable food to millions of people worldwide. Despite structural changes in the past decades the sector remains a large source of manufacturing output and employment, particularly in developing countries where the industry grew rapidly. Officially available statistics suggest that more than 22 million workers were employed worldwide in food and drink manufacturing in 2008. These figures may increase significantly if jobs throughout the entire food production system are counted.

Women constitute 40 percent of the food and drink workforce and in certain sub-sectors such as fish, vegetable and fruit processing workers are predominantly women. While small and medium enterprises in the food and drink industry are critical for output and employment generation, both in developed and developing economies, large companies, which account for less than 10% of total enterprises continue to contribute significantly to job creation.
Overall, working conditions have gradually improved in the food and drink sector, however there are a number of challenges to overcome in order to fulfil decent work in this sector, including low labour productivity and low skills; limited social protection and other benefits; occupational, safety and health issues at the workplace; gaps in working conditions between female and male workers; and the need to strengthen social dialogue.

In the next decades the food and drink sector faces an unprecedented confluence of pressures such as changes in supply and demand, climate change, food price volatility and food security. These may also have a significant impact on current and future employment trends and on working conditions in the sector.

Employment in both tobacco manufacturing and cultivation continued to fall in the past decade. Nonetheless, the sector remains an economic activity in which millions of women and men earn their living. Tobacco is grown in more than 100 developing and transition countries. Nearly 1.2 million workers are currently employed in tobacco manufacturing worldwide. However, the largest share of employment remains in leaf production, particularly in developing countries.

Changes in demand, resulting from increased health awareness and policy action to reduce tobacco consumption, as well as the adoption of new technologies will continue driving developments in the labour market in this sector in the next decades. These trends call for actions aimed at developing socially and economically viable farm and off-farm employment alternatives particularly for tobacco growers and leaf production workers. In addition, the industry still needs to address important decent work deficits such as poor working conditions at the workplace, exposure to hazardous and dangerous work, long hours and low pay, as well as child labour.

Due to the complexity in global food production systems, The ILO takes a comprehensive and holistic approach to addressing decent work deficits in the Food, Drink and Tobacco industries. This involves:
  • Interventions across all the food system from farm to fork
  • Advisory services and technical cooperation to enable ILO constituents throughout the food value chain to conform with relevant ILO Conventions and Standards
  • Research to expand the evidence base for policy making in the Food, Drink & Tobacco industries
  • Promoting knowledge sharing platforms to disseminate best practices at all stages of the food chain.
  • Support social dialogue among ILO constituents on food, drink and tobacco issues.