Fair Trade Comes Home: Fair Food Program Works To End Exploitation Of U.S. Farmworkers
Most coffee and chocolate aficionados are generally well-versed on the Fair Trade movement, which organized to offer producers in developing countries better trade deals than would normally be offered to them by large corporate purchasers.
Today’s massive food conglomerates routinely leverage their purchasing power to negotiate prices so low as to all but ensure farmworkers suffer dire working conditions and sub-poverty wages.
In contrast, Fair trade agreements pay these farms a premium for their products, while contractually obligating them to provide better working conditions and wages to their employees (including the rights to organize), and to promote superior environmental standards.
Yet, within the very borders of the United States, many farm workers continue to suffer from similar exploitation and deplorable working conditions. These mostly-migrant workers often have limited English-proficiency and questionable citizenship status, making them powerless to bargain for better conditions, or even to seek recourse when their employers violate federal and state labor laws.
The National Center For Farmworker Health found that 72% of all farmworkers in America were foreign born, earned between $12,500 – $14,999 per year on average, and 92% of them received no employer-provided health insurance — despite physically-demanding, high-risk work conditions.
Meet the Fair Food Program (FFP)
Driven by the same human-rights concerns as the Fair Trade movement, FFP activists pressure large ‘market-influencing’ purchasers of agricultural products to sign Fair Food Agreements that improve wages and working conditions of farmworkers in America.
The organization spearheading this effort is The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) — an organized tomato farmworker group based in Immokalee, Florida. The group describes itself as “a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida.”
The Florida agricultural industry has a long well-documented record of human-rights abuses, including nine cases prosecuted for slave-labor in the past 15 years alone.
CIW organized in 1993 to overcome the industry’s exploitation, and their efforts have proven to be highly successful. Over ninety percent of the Florida tomato farming industry now participates in the Fair Food Program. And as Florida FFP tomatoes begin to ring synonymous with fair labor practices the movement has the potential to spread into other farming industries and states.
Consider the marketing advantages that ‘Fair Trade’-designated coffees enjoy in the billion dollar U.S. coffee industry, where millions of American consumers expect to buy nothing less than Fair Trade. This demand has lured many coffee roasters and coffee shops alike to make the extra effort and expend additional monies to offer Fair Trade selections.
The major grocers and restaurant chains who sign CIW’s Fair Food Agreement commit to purchase all their Florida tomatoes exclusively from farms that participate in FFP, which in turn gives holdout Florida tomato farms incentive to join as well.
There are 7 major elements to the Fair Food Program:
- A pay increase supported by the price premium Participating Buyers pay for their tomatoes;
- Compliance with the Code of Conduct, including zero tolerance for forced labor and systemic child labor;
- Worker-to-worker education sessions conducted by the CIW on the farms and on company time to insure workers understand their new rights and responsibilities;
- A worker-triggered complaint resolution mechanism leading to complaint investigation, corrective action plans, and, if necessary, suspension of a farm’s Participating Grower status, and thereby its ability to sell to Participating Buyers;
- A system of Health and Safety volunteers on every farm to give workers a structured voice in the shape of their work environment;
- Specific and concrete changes in harvesting operations to improve workers’ wages and working conditions, including an end to the age-old practice of forced overfilling of picking buckets (a practice which effectively denied workers pay for up to 10% of the tomatoes harvested), shade in the fields, and time clocks to record and count all compensable hours accurately.
- Ongoing auditing of the farms to insure compliance with each element of the FFP.
Some of the methods CIW employs to pressure large retailers and restaurant chains into joining the program include: letter-writing campaigns, massive boycotts, highly-visible store and restaurant protests (not just in Florida, but across the country), and by educating the public about the heinous working conditions of farmworkers in the tomato industry. The group enjoys tremendous support from students, religious groups, labor groups, and community organizations across the United States.
Last week, following a 6-year-long campaign, CIW finally convinced Chipotle Mexican Grill, which operates under the “Food with Integrity” slogan, to sign the Fair Food Agreement, agreeing to pay a pennies-per-pound premium to help raise tomato workers’ wages across the state of Florida. With over 1,200 restaurants and $2.3 billion in revenues, this chain’s signature is a major victory for the FFP movement.
CIW member Nely Rodriguez explains how having powerful corporations like Chipotle as FFP members helps to end farmworker abuse:
“… [I]f there are any human rights violations in Florida’s fields, against women being sexually assaulted, for example, Chipotle now has the responsibility to hold the grower to the code of conduct, and stop the misconduct. There are now market consequences for abuse.” […]
Chipotle joins ten other major corporations who similarly concluded that indirectly profiting from inhumane labor conditions is just not good business:
Yum Brands [includes Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC] (2005), McDonald’s (2007), Burger King (2008), Subway (2008), Whole Foods Market (2008), Bon Appetit Management Company (2009), Compass Group (2009), Aramark (2010), Sodexo (2010), Trader Joe’s (2012), and Chipotle (2012) are participating in the Fair Food Program.
All eleven companies have agreed to pay a premium price for more fairly produced tomatoes, and to shift their Florida tomato purchases to growers who comply with the Fair Food Code of Conduct.
Edits: Per Claire Comiskey (from Interfaith Action in Immokalee — which works closely with CIW), the following errors have been corrected: 1. CIW engaged in a 6-year-long campaign with Chipotle (article previously described as ‘9-year-long campaign’). 2. The nine cases prosecuted for slave labor in the past 15 years occurred within the Florida agricultural industry (article previously reported within the Florida tomato industry).
Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein: U.S. policy to Israel, Palestine must change
Dr. Jill Stein, the prospective Green Party presidential nominee, just released a policy statement regarding Israel / Palestine on her website (which follows below).
For those who have longed to hear a U.S. Presidential candidate bravely step up with a Middle East policy platform grounded in international law, human rights, and equality and justice for ALL, her statement will not disappoint:
United States policy regarding Israel and Palestine must be revised to make international law, peace and human rights for all people, no matter their religion or nationality, the central priorities. While the U.S. government sometimes voices support for this principle in name, in practice U.S policy towards Palestine and Israel has violated this principle more often than not.
In particular, the United States has encouraged the worst tendencies of the Israeli government as it pursues policies of occupation, apartheid, assassination, illegal settlements, blockades, building of nuclear bombs, indefinite detention, collective punishment, and defiance of international law. Instead of allying with the courageous proponents of peace within Israel and Palestine, our government has rewarded consistent abusers of human rights. There is no peace or justice or democracy at the end of such a path. We must reset U.S. policy regarding Israel and Palestine, as part of a broader revision of U.S. policy towards the Middle East.
On taking office, I will put all parties on notice – including the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, and the Hamas administration in Gaza – that future U.S. support will depend on respect for human rights and compliance with international law. All three administrations will also be held responsible for preventing attacks by non-state actors on civilians or military personnel of any nationality. The parties will be given 60 days to each demonstrate unilateral material progress towards these ends.
Material progress will be understood to include but not be limited to an end to the discriminatory apartheid policies within the state of Israel, the removal of the Separation Wall, a ban on assassination, movement toward denuclearization, the release of all political prisoners and journalists from Israeli and Palestinian prisons, disarmament of non-state militias, and recognition of the right of self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Failure by any party to demonstrate sufficient material progress will result in the end of U.S. military and economic aid to that party. Should the end of U.S. aid fail to cause a party to redirect its policies and to take steps resulting in sufficient material progress within an additional 60 days, I will direct my State Department to initiate diplomacy intended to isolate and pressure the offending party, including the use of economic sanctions and targeted boycott. In this way, U.S. policy will begin to become consistent with its practices regarding other violators of human rights and international law in the region.
Consistency in U.S. policy regarding human rights and international law will begin, but not end, with Palestine and Israel. I will apply this same approach to other nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen, among others. I will also ensure that the United States begins to honor its obligations to protect human rights, and will expect that the world community will hold us to the same account we hold others.
Finally, as President I will put the full weight of the United States behind the establishment of a Palestine and Israel Truth and Reconciliation Commission as the vehicle for shifting from an era of human rights violations to one based on trust and bringing all parties together to seek solutions. Any stakeholder who enters into this process must pledge to work for a solution that respects the rights of all involved. This will bring America’s Middle East policy into alignment with American values. I understand that in the end, a dedicated commitment to justice will further American interests in the region much better than the current policies of supporting abuses and violence by one side against the other. And I believe that this is in the best interests of all people living in Israel and Palestine.
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