Cheap Food & Women’s Work

By Ivy Ken & Benjamín Elizalde

People tend to think about school meals from the point of view of children:  Does the food taste good?  Is it nutritious?  How much of it is thrown away?

Feeding kids at school, though, is also a labor issue.  We spent half of last year in Chile to study the school feeding program there, focusing on the labor conditions of women along the commodity chain that supplies public school children with meals.  The government outsources this public service to private companies that hire workers to prepare students’ food.  In Chile these workers are called manipuladoras de alimentos:  food handlers.  More affectionately they call each other tías or señoras de la cocina, and throughout the country these women are organized, unionized, and politically active.

In October 2014 the President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, used the occasion of International Rural Women´s Day to announce a new law to support women’s work.  “All companies that help the state to serve Chile should be the best, with outstanding labor practices,” she said (translated).  The law applied to 40,000 manipuladoras along with cleaning and maintenance staff, security workers, and drivers, or in other words, employees of companies that contract with the state.  For manipuladoras, the law requires a yearly bonus of CLP$67,500 (about US$100) and salary for the months of the year when school is out of session.  To accomplish this, the government is supposed to give priority to the food service companies that agree to pay it. Continue reading “Cheap Food & Women’s Work”