Sustainability in focus – worker health and safety
We prioritize worker health and safety in the acquisition and management of our farmland investments and strive to mitigate environmental risks that affect workers and local communities. Westchester’s worker health and safety practices can be tied to SDG 8 — Promote full and productive employment and decent work for all, specifically SDG target 8.5, Fair labour and working conditions, including equal opportunities and non-discrimination.
Health and safety in Poland
Striving to improve working conditions by dealing with deep-rooted environmental risks
As part of its commitment to worker health and safety, Westchester takes a systematic approach to mitigating environmental risks that affect workers on their farms and local communities, such as the presence of asbestos in older farm buildings. This approach involves conducting thorough due diligence during acquisition, executing remediation plans to address environmental issues, and implementing effective farm policies.
Health and safety issues vary from country to country. In Poland, agricultural workers can be at risk from toxic materials in farm buildings and other infrastructure that remains in place from the 20th century. Poland’s 2004 entrance into the European Union (EU) led to the adoption of several common EU regulations (acquis communautaire) to address environmental issues. These EU rules, combined with Polish legal requirements related to labour and environmental protection, have compelled strong steps toward environmental remediation in Poland’s agricultural sector. Particularly relevant is an EU asbestos ban going into effect in 2032, which comes in response to rising environmental awareness and strong interest by ecological NGOs.
Accordingly, Westchester prioritizes environmental due diligence when acquiring new farmland properties to ensure the health and safety of farm workers, their families and local rural communities. The company engages a third-party consultant to conduct a detailed environmental assessment of the underlying farmland as well as fixed assets on the property. The consultant inspects the site, collects relevant data, interviews the farm manager and workers, and quantifies potential risks and remediation costs. Based on the full report, Westchester works with a reputable expert to form a remediation plan that is subject to the approval of environmental authorities.
The professional, licensed contractor hired by Westchester carries out and monitors the remediation process and proper disposal of hazardous materials. Westchester’s significant capital investment at acquisition gives farm managers greater capacity to prioritize and address health and safety risks than would be possible with more limited resources.
"Remediation of farm sites and disposal of hazardous materials, like asbestos and fuel leakages into soils, generate significant costs...
- Maciej Kiełbasa, Farm foreman
Common health and safety issues that must be remediated include carcinogenic asbestos dust that workers might inhale and underground oil tanks that can leak pollutants into soils. On farm properties now managed by Westchester in Poland, 1,550 tons of asbestos, 57 oil tanks and 15,132 tons of surrounding contaminated soil have been removed since 2011.
In 2016 Westchester was one of the first entities to introduce GLOBALG.A.P. Certification in Poland for combinable crops. The company shared the cost with farmers, which has led to initial adoption within our Poland portfolio. Of the almost 98,000 acres under management in Poland, 34% were certified under GLOBALG.A.P. as of December 2018. All new tenancy agreements require this certification, which will become standard for the Poland portfolio overall and a powerful tool for ensuring worker health and safety.
Inclusive, productive employment
Satisfying essential farm needs by engaging workers with disabilities
Nuveen’s Fruits of Employment (FoE) initiative gives individuals with disabilities access to competitive employment across four custom-farmed properties in California, Oregon and Washington.
Read this article on page 25 of the full report.