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International Commission for Coordination of Solidarity Among Sugar Workers (ICCSASW)

Users’ Guide to International Commission for Coordination of Solidarity Among Sugar Workers (ICCSASW) Sugar Materials Shelved at CERLAC.


In the 1960’s and 70’s there was a widespread focus on trade as the path towards “Third World” development, as typified by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). A major tool was commodity agreements, which sought to achieve fair prices for Third World commodity exports, such as sugar, coffee, cocoa, rubber, tin, etc.   The five major Canadian churches[1], acting ecumenically, were concerned to alleviate Third World poverty and followed UNCTAD’s commodity efforts closely.

Following the Third UNCTAD Conference in Santiago, Chile in 1972, the Canadian churches established a research, action and education project, GATT-Fly, which was described as “an inter-church initiative for an alternative trade policy.”  The first major international conference coming up was the International Sugar Conference in Geneva in May 1973.  Canada relies almost completely on imported raw cane sugar for its needs, and as such was an important player at the Geneva conference. GATT-Fly accordingly presented a brief to the government on what it felt should be Canada’s goals at the conference, and used its research capacity on sugar to monitor subsequent events closely.  The two main issues were market access, or export quotas, and price levels.  GATT-Fly wanted poor sugar-exporting countries to receive increased access to developed country markets at remunerative prices.

Suffice it to say that Canadian government actions continued to reflect the commercial interests of domestic sugar refining companies, and the churches’ recommendations were effectively ignored.  Seeing this, GATT-Fly took its research and analysis to the trade unions in the sugar industry, particularly in the Third World cane sector. Their first major event was an International Sugar Workers Conference held in Trinidad in 1977.

Meanwhile GATT-Fly continued with major research, analysis, education and action on a number of other economic justice issues, such as the world food crisis, the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, textiles, etc.   At a follow-up International Sugar Workers Conference in Toronto in 1983, GATT-Fly’s sugar work was set up as a separate overseas development project, the International Commission for Coordination of Solidarity Among Sugar Workers (ICCSASW), with a 10-member international trade union steering committee.  Canadian and European churches’ overseas development agencies continued to be the major source of funds, with the secretariat located in Toronto.

Attempts were made to find a suitable Third World location for the secretariat, with the necessary communications infrastructure and freedom from political interference, but these were unsuccessful. It was always assumed that the First World trade union movement would eventually take over the funding role from the churches, but this did not happen. After 15 years, church funding had declined to the point that ICCSASW came to an end in 1998. A portion of the work continued under the International Union of Food Workers (IUF), which is based in Geneva.

Over a period of 25 years (1973-1998) the GATT-Fly/ICCSASW sugar project organized four international sugar workers’ conferences and 20 regional and national seminars, involving a total of 1,500 participants from 40 sugar-producing countries. In addition, dozens of solidarity campaigns were carried out in support of sugar workers’ struggles in these countries.  Regular newsletters in both English and Spanish were published over a 20-year period, and also in French and Portuguese for shorter periods.  Ongoing research into economic and social conditions was carried out, resulting in occasional publications on these topics.  This work program involved staff travel to most of the countries within the ICCSASW network.[2]

The ICCSASW Archives, consisting of correspondence, organizational files, photos, etc. are lodged in the special collections section of the Clara Thomas Archives in the Scott Library building at York University.   In support of its work program ICCSASW maintained a documentation centre on various aspects of the sugar industry, the bulk of which is now incorporated into the resource centre of the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC), also at York University.  Though most of the material is in English, there is also a lot in Spanish, with lesser quantities in Portuguese and French.

It is important to note that this documentation is a by-product of ICCSASW’ solidarity work, which was primarily action-oriented.  Therefore the coverage of topics mentioned below varies. Some of it is in-depth and comprehensive, other parts are more superficial. All of it was helpful in empowering sugar workers’ unions to understand their industry better, and to improve the livelihood of their members.

What you will find in the ICCSASW collection:

- An almost complete collection of the London-based International Sugar Organization’s statistical yearbooks from 1947 to 2005. These contain detailed sugar production, consumption, export and import figures for all countries.  Also various ISO documents and reports (1951-1997)

- Various statistical and other publications (1974-2005) from Germany-based F.O. Licht, which was for many decades the authoritative source of ongoing information on all aspects of the international sugar industry.

- Bartens’ (Germany) “Sugar and Sweetener Economy” yearbook of the sugar industry. (1994-2011)

- A small number of miscellaneous books on various aspects of the sugar industry.

- Sugar y Azucar (U.S.-based) periodical on U.S. and Latin American sugar industry (1976-91).

- GEPLACEA (Group of Latin American and Caribbean
Sugar Exporting Countries) monthly reports (1986-93), plus occasional publications.

- U.S. Department of Agriculture - Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA-FAS) periodic reports on the sugar industries of key producing countries (1995-1997).

-  Complete set of the Dyergram sugar newsletter from 1987 to 2005 (from U.S. sugar brokers B.W. Dyer & Co.)

- An extensive collection of vertical file boxes arranged alphabetically, containing documents and files on the principal sugar-producing countries.

- Vertical files boxes on bananas, pesticides, etc.

- Seven bankers’ boxes containing country files unsuited for vertical boxes.

- Two bankers’ boxes on Canadian sugar-related topics.

- Two bankers’ boxes on miscellaneous topics related to the sugar industry.

- One bankers’ box of labour files by country, region or topic.

- One bankers’ box of files on sweetener companies.

N.B.  These 13 bankers’ boxes are placed on the lowest shelves to facilitate handling, as they are heavy and should be lifted carefully to avoid back injury.

4) Various publications and reports from the European Economic Community (EEC) regarding Atlantic-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) former colonies. Various commodity reports from London-based research firm LMC (1986-96).

5) United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) - various sugar-related documents.

6) A complete set of GATT-Fly sugar-related and ICCSASW publications (1973-1998).  These include the newsletters Sugar World, Mundo Azucarero, Le Monde du Sucre and Mundo Acucareiro. The first two were published regularly, usually monthly, for 20 years. The last two were published less frequently over a 4-5 year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  The ICCSASW Report, focusing on the North America sugar industry, was published monthly for several years in the 1990s.  Other publications report on conferences and seminars, or deal with specific topics related to the sugar workers’ struggle.

7) Various U.S. sugar publications and reports (USDA, re Sugar Act 1934, Louisiana, etc.)

8) Proceedings of Canadian Tariff Board hearings into sugar (1971, 1986); proceedings of Canadian International Trade Tribunal (CITT) on anti-dumping, etc.


[1] Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and United.

[2] Staff consisted mainly of an executive secretary, joint executive secretary (Spanish), and office manager. During certain periods there was also a women’s program director, a documentalist, and various student interns.  Several trade unionists from sugar-producing countries also spent four-month periods as visiting staff.

NOTE: For more information on the ICCSASW fonds please go to: