International agreements

Outside of trade and financial agreements, international treaties in environmental and human rights areas have not proven to be that effective (Hoffman et al., 2022).

Trade agreements (provisions pertinent to food, e.g., GATT, NAFTA, USMCA, WTO, CETA, CPATPP)
Conventions related to food and food rights (e.g., numerous UN conventions)

(Rideout et al 2007)

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,“The right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.”[1]

[1] General Comment No. 12

UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food:  “the right to food is the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear.”[1]  

[1] See the full report on the Rapporteur's Mission to Canada:

International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families

Food provisions of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Conventions related to the environment (e.g., Biosafety protocol, climate change)

Convention on Biological diversity, Draft Text of COP15 Global Biodiversity Framework

2003 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

Climate change agreements

UN Environment Programme, an International Negotiating Committee on plastics pollution

Conventions related to oceans and fishery

1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries

2001 UN Fish Stocks Agreement on Straddling Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks


FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small Scale Fisheries in the context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication.

Joint Strategic Plan for the Management of Great Lakes Fisheries

Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

Tribal and First Nations Great Lakes Water Accord

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women

Aarhus Convention (adapted from Pham, 2019)

The Aarhus Convention of 1998 is a treaty that was developed in the realm of public participation by the United Nations (UN) Economic Commission for Europe. It provides participation standards for decision-making by public authorities in relation to administrative decision-making, freedom of information, and justice. The treaty is open to any UN-affiliated country and includes three guiding pillars (Stec and Casey-Lefkovitz, 2000):

  • Access to Knowledge requires the government to provide relevant information on environmental issues when requested. There are two sections in this pillar:
    o The public’s right to seek information from the government and the government’s obligation to provide that information on request
    o The public’s right to receive information and the government’s obligation to collect and analyze information from the public even without a special request
  • Administrative Decision-Making requires governments to give public notice of the intent for environmental decision-making. This is to provide opportunities for public participation in the policy process and hold governments accountable for incorporating the feedback into the final decisions and not just on paper. There are three sections in this pillar:
    o Public participation on a specific activity
    o Public participation in the development of plans, programs, and policies related to the environment
    o Public participation in the preparation of laws, rules, and legally binding norms
  • Access to Justice provides regulations for the implementation of the Aarhus Convention such as what to do when a request for information is refused, access to administrative or judicial procedures to challenge acts and omissions, and “fair, equitable, and reasonably expensive” regulations for proceeding

The Aarhus Convention is intended to link environmental rights and human rights and acknowledges that sustainable development can only be achieved if stakeholders are involved in the process. It holds the government responsible for accountability, transparency, and responsiveness (Stec and Casey-Lefkovitz, 2000). It requires all parties to create public participation processes that include a reasonable timeframe for all phases  in the process All parties must provide adequate resources (such as effective access to information mentioned in the previous theme or financial resources) to the public so they can actively participate.

The Convention has limitations, particular in places vague language and an absence of enforcement mechanisms (Lee and Abbot, 2003), but it does provide a useful first step towards greater accountability and a commitment towards meaningfully engaging with the public.Canada is not currently a signatory to the Convention and many of its public participation processes would not likely meet its conditions.

Recommendation of the Council on the OECD-FAO Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains

Food Pacts

Milan Urban Food Policy Pact

C40 Good Food Cities Declaration

OECD Declaration on Transformative Solutions for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems