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“Effort to protect farmworkers from sexual assault is gaining momentum…”

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“The Fair Food Program is a transformative, model program…”

A study conducted in 2010 found that 80% of farmworker women report that they have experienced sexual harassment on the job.  That number is incomprehensible, until you stop to think of the immense imbalance of power between workers and their employers that defines most farm labor jobs.  The near total dependence of many farmworkers on their bosses — for everything from employment to, in many cases, housing, transportation, and, in the case of guest workers, even their right to live and work in the country — is the kind of relationship that lends itself to abuse.  As a result, sexual harassment in the fields is effectively endemic, and has been for decades.

In one sector of the agricultural industry, though, that devastating story is starting to change, and two recent articles highlight the gains women farmworkers are seeing in the Florida tomato industry today thanks to the Fair Food Program (FFP).  In the words of the CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo, who worked for years in the tomato harvest before joining the CIW staff two years ago to help educate her fellow workers on their rights under the FFP, “When we arrive home at the end of the day, we can hug our children happily, knowing that we didn’t have to sell our dignity in the fields.  We brought it home with us.”

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The first article comes from Sheila Bapat with Aljazeera America, who took a long look at the Fair Food Program and at its potential for expansion.  Here’s an extended excerpt from her piece, entitled, “Effort to protect farmworkers from sexual assault gaining momentum: A Florida-based program that could bring protection for workers seeks to expand nationally” (4/17/14):

Isabel, 30, has been working on Florida tomato farms for many years since she arrived from Guatemala. Her experience in the sun-soaked fields has brought a steady paycheck, but she has also seen co-workers experience sexual abuse and sexual violence.

“Before, we would hear about a contractor or supervisor who would take women to a private place, to the edge of the field, and we understood that sexual assault is what was happening,” she said. “Now, we aren’t hearing these stories in the same way we used to.”

Isabel credits a new program specific to Florida tomato farms for the decline in such incidents, but the rate of sexual assault and exploitation in the agriculture sector remains a significant concern for many advocates around the country…

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A new approach

The Fair Food Code of Conduct aims to address the issue of sexual assault, as well as wage issues, in the fields. It states that growers must agree to “take all necessary steps to avoid endangering the safety of employees,” and violations of this code include sexual harassment.

Participating tomato buyers agree to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes purchased, and those funds are used to increase worker wages…

The Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC), which hires 10 professional monitors to conduct announced and unannounced audits of the state’s tomato farms, monitors compliance with the Fair Food Program; audits involve intensive worker interviews. Auditors assess whether a company has systems in place that can comply with the code of conduct, and whether they are being implemented at field level. If violations are found, tomato growers are given an opportunity to correct violations.

They can be suspended from the program for failure to resolve the violations, said Laura Safer Espinoza, a former New York State Supreme Court judge who is now director of the FFSC.

Three Florida tomato growers are currently suspended for failure to abide with the code of conduct; a fourth was previously suspended and later restored to good standing upon demonstrating compliance with the code.

“There is a powerful market consequence that gives this program teeth,” Espinoza said. “It is a privilege to be involved in a program that goes beyond the legal system in terms of its capacity for transformational change.” read more

The article is definitely worth reading in its entirety — including interviews with farmworkers, CIW and FFSC staff, national worker advocates, and participating buyers in the FFP — so click here and take a few minutes to enjoy this head to toe look at the program that is changing lives in Florida’s fields every day.

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The second article comes from Tampa’s alternative weekly, “Creative Loafing,” which reported on a recent presentation by the CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo on the Fair Food Program during the Florida Holocaust Museum’s annual Genocide and Human Rights Awareness Month.  Entitled, “Lecture highlights CIW achievements, decrease in farmworker exploitation,” (4/15/14), the piece begins:

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Huddled over a bucket, Lupe Gonzalo (above) demonstrated how she and other farmworkers positioned themselves while harvesting tomatoes from Florida fields. Working in agriculture for 12 years, a bucket was her only tool.

During “Our Food/Our Table: From the Ground Up,” her April 12 lecture at the Florida Holocaust Museum, Gonzalo said farmworkers spent entire workdays hunched over. Before the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a worker-based human rights group, launched its Fair Food Program, farmworkers collected tomatoes and filled, overfilled, their buckets as quickly as possible to meet growers’ demands…

Women could not lean forward in a certain way if people were standing behind them in the fields, she said. Sexual harassment and abuse were common. She referred to violence against women, pre-CIW, as “our daily bread.”

The article goes on to convey many of the changes that are taking place today following the implementation of the Fair Food Program across the vast majority of Florida’s tomato industry:

… Growers, workers and participating buyers come together to prioritize humane labor standards and better wages for farmworkers through the Fair Food Program. After campaigning for more than a decade, 90 percent of Florida’s tomato growers have joined as well as 12 corporations, including Taco Bell, Subway and Walmart.

The program has implemented a wage increase for workers using the extra penny per pound that buyers agree to pay, a human rights-based code of conduct that encourages workers to report sexual harassment and forced labor, time clocks, a minimum wage along with a piece rate, worker-to-worker education and more.

There are still no mandated benefits like sick pay or health insurance, but if workers feel ill, they may go home without fearing they will lose their jobs. Farmworkers also have access to shade and water in the fields, and may file complaints to reclaim wages if necessary.

Earning an additional $50 or $100 each week might not seem like much, according to Gonzalo, but “for us, in poverty, that’s economic relief.”

“When we arrive home at the end of the day, we can hug our children happily, knowing that we didn’t have to sell our dignity in the fields,” she said. “We brought it home with us.”

Be sure to check out the full article here.  While the fight against sexual harassment in the fields is still very much a work in progress, the advances in Florida’s tomato industry are unmistakable, and the Fair Food Program is restoring dignity to women whose hard work has gone unappreciated — and whose abuse at the hands of their bosses unchecked — for far too long.

We’ll close this post with last year’s great short video produced by the PBS Frontline documentary team that carried out a year-long investigation of sexual violence in the country’s agricultural industry and, in the process, discovered the remarkable success of the Fair Food Program in fighting this most heinous of crimes against workers:

 

Check back soon for more from the fight for Fair Food, including a complete report from the CIW’s question and answer session with Ahold executives at the Ahold shareholder meeting, which took place in Amsterdam earlier this week!

Fair Food Program “good for business…”

Media round-up highlights Fair Food Nation’s remarkable progress in first months of 2014… In January, Walmart signed a Fair Food agreement, adding the world’s largest retailer to the growing list of food giants supporting the Fair Food Program.   In February, the documentary “Food Chains” premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, introducing Europe to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and to the two-decade long fight for Fair Food.   In March, the national Now is the Time Tour rocked ten cities in ten days, with massive actions at the top and bottom of the tour, in Dublin, Ohio, and Lakeland, Florida.   And […]

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Del Monte Fresh Produce joins Fair Food Program!

Fair Food Program, Florida tomato industry continue to grow… together. From the national produce industry journal The Packer (“Del Monte inks deal with Coalition of Immokalee Workers,” 4/8/14): Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc., is the latest Florida-based grower-shipper to strike a deal with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. In an April 8 news release, the Coral Gables, Fla.-based Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc., announced one of its subsidiaries, Del Monte Fresh Production Inc., has agreed to the Immokalee, Fla.-based workers organization’s terms. Del Monte joins the CIW and many of the largest U.S. retailers and restaurant chains that participate in the […]

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Why does the US Chamber of Commerce hate America? (apologies to Stephen Colbert…)

If the Fair Food Program is good for Florida tomato growers, good for American food corporations, and good for American workers, why has the Chamber of Commerce teamed up with other Washington lobbying groups to attack the CIW? In Part One of this two-part series, we established the business argument for the Fair Food Program: In summary, in the space of a few short years since that “watershed moment” in 2010, the Florida tomato industry has undergone an unprecedented transformation, a metamorphosis that, in the words of Barry Estabrook in 2011, took it from being ”one of the most repressive employers in the country… to being […]

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Part One: “The New Day is not something that’s going to happen, the New Day is happening right now”…

  Since 2010, a metamorphosis has been underway in the Florida tomato industry, while in Mexico the industry’s counterpart has only sunk deeper into a morass of violence, corruption, poverty, and exploitation… The quotation at the top of this post came from the Rev. Roy Terry of the United Methodist Church of Naples.  Rev. Terry spoke those words during a candlelight vigil held at the Duke University Chapel as part of last month’s Now Is the Time Tour.  The vigil was captured beautifully in the simple but moving video above.  It bears watching before reading on, if you haven’t already. […]

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Extreme Makeover: Florida tomato industry edition…

In the space of just a few years, the CIW’s Fair Food Program has transformed the Florida tomato industry and created a “model” for the protection of human rights in global supply chains “elsewhere in the world.” How could something so good for business make the US Chamber of Commerce so mad?  A reflection in two parts… Introduction In January of this year, the CIW signed its twelfth Fair Food agreement with a multi-billion dollar food industry leader, this time with the multi-billion-dollar-est of them all, Walmart. Walmart representatives John Amaya (left), Tom Leech (center) and CIW’s Lucas Benitez, Gerardo Reyes […]

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The Nation: “Why are students protesting Wendy’s and Publix?”…

Answers to that question and more, with all the latest press from the Fair Food front! Even as we gear up for what is sure to be an exciting April — the month ahead is already overflowing with events, including the recently-announced screening of “Food Chains” at Tribeca, the CIW’s visit to Amsterdam to participate in Ahold’s annual shareholder meeting (last year’s visit provided us with this memorable reflection), and a trip to the University of California at Berkeley to take part in Michael Pollan’s popular lecture series there, among many other things — we don’t want to ignore the press that continues […]

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Tribeca Film Festival makes “Food Chains” an official selection with screening set for April 26th in NYC!

Film also premiered in Mexico this past Sunday at Guadalajara Film Festival to packed house, huge press conference (pictured below), and wildly positive audience reaction! It has been a busy week for the farm labor documentary “Food Chains.” Fresh off its successful world premier at the Berlin Film Festival, “Food Chains” was named an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival last Monday and then turned around and took the Guadalajara International Film Festival by storm this past weekend!   To top off its great week, the film was also included in the prestigious “Tribeca Talks” series of panel discussions […]

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Hundreds of Walk Free members call Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick in wake of big Dublin march!

  Callers demand farm labor justice from Wendy’s CEO who helped get the Fair Food ball rolling back in 2005 at Taco Bell… Walk Free, the international anti-slavery organization that earlier this year raised over 400,000 emails to Publix CEO Ed Crenshaw calling on Publix to support the Fair Food Program, has turned its attention to Wendy’s.  Hot on the heels of last week’s big march on Wendy’s headquarters in Dublin, Ohio, scores of Walk Free members picked up the phone and called Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick to demand Fair Food from the fast-food leader. Walk Free sent along some of the […]

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Media Round-up… Now Is the Time Tour all over the news!

Publix, Wendy’s stand against historic changes in the fields draws attention from state, national, campus and faith press! On Monday, we told our own story of the exciting 10-day, 10-city Now Is the Time Tour, reporting on the huge final march through Lakeland and looking back at the tour as a whole and the roots of Publix’s unconscionable stance against progress in Florida’s fields.   Today we wanted to bring you links and excerpts from all the media reports on the tour that have come out since our last media round-up, including stories in state and national press as well […]

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“Publix must turn from its pride and arrogance and turn towards its partners in business, the workers from Immokalee…”

24-hr vigil at Publix ends with march of 1,000 through downtown Lakeland!   The 10-day, 10-city Now Is the Time Tour ended Saturday with a massive march through the heart of Lakeland, Florida.  Responding to the marchers’ infectious high spirits and passionate call for human rights in Florida’s fields, the townspeople embraced the march with honks, waves, and thumbs-up, leaning out car windows and pouring out of homes and businesses along the three-mile route.  Lakeland’s response sent a clear signal that, even in Publix’s hometown, the grocery giant’s stubborn stonewalling of the Fair Food Program is growing increasingly unpopular and […]

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The vigil begins: 24 hours for Fair Food…

After nine days on the road, the Now Is The Time Tour reaches Lakeland, settles in for 24-hour vigil! Note from the media team: What follows is a quick dispatch from the front recapping yesterday’s action at the all-night vigil outside the Southgate Publix in Lakeland, Fl.  After a long night for the documentation crew, our offering today will be a little thinner than usual, a sort of series of postcards from the first day of the vigil, with more to come tomorrow after today’s action has wrapped up (there is, at least, a very fine video included toward the […]

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“Whether it’s two or two hundred, I’ll participate in every march until we win!”

Joined by students from the River City Science Academy and Jacksonvillians for Fair Food, CIW tour crew leads a march of 200+ from Wendy’s to Publix down busy Jacksonville streets… Yesterday in Jacksonville was about hope. Hope for the future, delivered on the shouts and cheers of 150 of the smartest, sweetest, most enthusiastic high school students (not to mention their teachers!) you could ever hope to meet. Hope for justice in Florida’s fields, because when the next generation of consumers feels so strongly about justice and human rights for all — and is so willing to explore and engage […]

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Atlanta takes up the Fair Food banner!

Tour crew arrives in Atlanta, visits Carter Center and King Center, joins with 100+ Atlantans to tell Publix “tomato workers deserve justice!” Extreme wind and cold pose a challenge to nighttime candlelight vigil, but protesters persevere, sending powerful message of solidarity in heart of Publix’s expanding southeastern market… Day 8 was a day full of travel, education, and action.   Following a morning spent driving from Nashville to Atlanta, Wednesday afternoon’s tight schedule packed in visits to two national museums honoring Atlanta’s dual Nobel Laureates and ended with a vibrant — and soulful, thanks to another stellar performance by Atlanta’s incomparable […]

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“This ain’t a protest, this is a celebration…”

“Human rights have arrived in Florida’s fields, and Publix, you are late to the party!” NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather Those are the words of Pedro Lopez (below, right) – jaranero extraordinaire and the CIW’s most trusted emcee for tours, fasts, and marches since anyone can remember — at the rally yesterday outside a Nashville, TN, Publix, as nearly 200 people gathered following a 3-mile march through the city that once again put smiles on the faces of countless Nashville residents and reminded Publix of the remarkable transformation taking place in Florida’s fields on which it has turned its back.   […]

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You CAN go home again…

CIW returns to Louisville, the birthplace of Fair Food, to visit with dear old friends and rekindle powerful alliances for the Wendy’s campaign! In March, 2005, Taco Bell’s parent company Yum Brands, based in Louisville, KY, signed the first-ever Fair Food agreement with the CIW after four long years of boycott.  During those four years, we built deep and lasting friendships with many, many residents of Louisville, people with an abiding belief in justice, in human rights, and in the faith that we can, through our concerted efforts, build a better, more humane world.   But the Campaign for Fair […]

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