“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.”
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…
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.
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:
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!