Bitter Harvest: Supply Chain Oppression and the Legal Exclusion of Agricultural Workers

Shikha Silliman Bhattacharjee

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Persistent exploitation of farmworkers is a defining problem of our time. An estimated 32% of the global population is employed in agriculture. At the base of global food systems, agricultural workers sustain the world’s population while systematically excluded from labor rights protections. Through an analysis of restrictions on labor rights for agricultural workers in 110 countries, this Article distills a typology of legal exclusion that persists to date across the globe. These exclusions articulate labor exploitation at the base of agri-food supply chains and economic and social hierarchies constructed by race, caste, indigeneity, gender, and migration status. How can we upend this legal architecture of oppression, rooted in racialized and gendered capitalism? The global understanding advanced in this Article is critical to dismantling legal architectures of oppression. At the national level, it provides a framework for identifying and addressing layered mechanisms of legal exclusion in particular jurisdictions. Moreover, since agricultural supply chains operate globally, it provides important guidance for protecting workers’ rights on agri-food supply chains, including through binding due diligence legislation in headquarter economies of lead firms, enforceable brand agreements, and inclusion of labor rights in food safety and environmental standards. Finally, due to the structure of monopsony capitalism, in order to raise the floor for agricultural workers worldwide, legal exclusions must be ratcheted up across jurisdictions. Global analysis, then, provides a roadmap for strengthening international standards and global campaigns.
Original languageEnglish
JournalUniversity of Illinois Law Review
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1337-1388
Number of pages52
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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