Sinem Kavak

Biography

Sinem Kavak is a critical agrarian studies scholar from Turkey. She received her PhD degree in Political Science at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris Saclay and Boğaziçi University in May 2017 with a specialization on international political economy. Her PhD dissertation, Rethinking the Political Economy of Contemporary Water Struggles in Turkey: Space, Structures and Altered Agencies from a Comparative Perspective, explores the links between livelihood transformations and peasant mobilizations against the commodification of rivers. The dissertation rests on comparative analysis of differentiation of peasant livelihoods and how these affects the discourses, agency and success of mobilizations. Her masters’ thesis is on the neoliberalization of tobacco market in Turkey and explores the uneven transformation of peasant livelihoods and patterns of rural restructuring within the literature of new peasantry. She takes part in research projects on multiple export commodities such as hazelnut, cotton, tea and sugar beet. In these projects, she focuses both on relations of production and on rural labour (more specifically seasonal migrant workers). She published an article titled “Syrian Refugees and Turkish Migrants in Seasonal Agricultural Work: A Case of Adverse Incorporation in Turkey” and co-authored research reports in Turkish, on seasonal agricultural work.” She worked as a lecturer in Boğaziçi University where she taught “Agrarian Change and Social Policy: Markets, Peasants and Rural Poverty” Currently, she is a Raoul Wallenberg Institute postdoctoral fellow at Lund University, with a project problematizing forced labour-unfree labour binary rural labour.

Abstract

What labels disguise: A critical assessment of private-led social justice in Turkish agriculture

This article puts the voluntary sustainability standards and certification labels in agricultural commodity production under scrutiny. The political objective of the label is two-fold: to signal the consumers that they are buying socially and environmentally responsible commodities with the extra money they pay choosing the labelled one over the others sitting in the next shelf. Second is to encourage the producers towards implementing ‘voluntary’ sustainability standards, but are they voluntary for the farmers of the South? Focusing on the smallholders and seasonal migrant workers in hazelnut production, this article problematizes responsible production and decent work claims of private-led certification schemes. Hazelnuts is a major ingredient in global chocolate market and Turkey produces up to 70% of the global supply. Hence CSR and third-party due diligence programs in cocoa productions extends into Turkey. Seasonal migrant workers in hazelnut production, who are the main labour force, have become the centre of this corporate agenda since 2010s. Drawing on 3 years of qualitative research, I analyse the roles of the market actors in hazelnut value chain (state, corporations, suppliers, local traders, producers, workers and third-party certifiers) and put forward that farmers and workers are subject to amplified pressure in the neo-liberal market setting with constructed uncertainties in pricing, weakened farmers’ cooperatives and profit drive disguised in morality and ethics discourse disengaged from the material structures. I argue that the private-led standards do not result in redistribution as opposed to the premise; on the contrary, they contribute to the insecurity and vulnerability of the smallholders. Even though the main responsible of the certification programs seem to be companies, the cost of compliance is paid by the farmers while profits are shared by the global agribusiness and their main suppliers. Premium payments generated by the compliance (the labels) seldom reach farmers, but contributes to the increased profits of companies through constructed price uncertainty felt by the smallholders during the harvest time. The ‘monitoring fatigue’ coupled with non-transparent and volatile market creates grievance towards the vulnerable migrant workers further undermining social justice.

Affiliation: Lund University