Spoken words fly away, written words remain

Example of a choice card used in the experiment.

September 07, 2021.  

Promoting written employment contracts between farmers and hired workers

Most of the work of smallholders is done with family labor. The use of hired labor is not trivial. Hired workers are a rather diverse group. They can be landholders themselves taking up small jobs on other farms as a source of additional income or migrants from neighboring countries working on a seasonal basis. Others might be hired for a whole cropping season to take care of all production activities.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the use of hired labor is a common practice among smallholder cacao producers and the relationship between landowner and hired worker is guided by a long-standing institutional arrangement deeply rooted in social norms: the aboussant arrangement. In some of the local languages, aboussant means “divided by three,” which is the main principle behind this arrangement. The hired workers (who are referred to as aboussant) offer their labor to the landowner, but, at the end of the season, they receive one-third of the value of the harvested cacao instead of a fixed wage. Although this core element is understood by all parties, there are several important details in these working relationships that are only defined in oral contracts. Conflicts then inevitably arise, but farmers stick to oral agreements because “that’s how it has always been done.”

Nudging behavioral change

To test if and to what extent we could change farmers’ attitudes towards written contracts, we designed a small awareness campaign. The campaign comprised a workshop – to which only randomly selected farmers were invited – and a follow-up meeting to clarify any questions. In the workshops, farmers were first encouraged to share their positive and negative experiences with current working arrangements. Then we presented the idea of written contracts, discussed the inclusion of social benefits for workers in the contracts, and explained how they could set up and sign these contracts.

One month after the workshops, we went back to the villages and played a game with farmers to elicit their preferences for different contracts. Using choice cards, we asked farmers to choose between two different contract options or to choose their current working arrangement as a status quo. Each farmer played the game four times using choice cards with different options.

Small interventions, big transformations

Our results show that farmers who participated in the awareness campaign have a higher preference for written contracts and for contract features involving social benefits for their workers, such as full coverage of work-related health expenses. Participants were also more likely to have taken concrete steps towards signing a written contract. These results show the importance of opening spaces where experiences can be shared and new ideas on how to solve problems can be discussed. Even a simple awareness campaign can go a long way in shaping traditional attitudes and behavior.

Original publication: Jäckering, L., Meemken, E.-M., Sellare, J., & Qaim, M. (2021). Promoting written employment contracts: Evidence from a randomised awareness campaign. European Review of Agricultural Economics, https://doi.org/10.1093/erae/jbaa035



Jorge Sellare

Dr. Jorge Sellare