The Coalition of Immokalee Workers
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a membership-led farmworker organization of mostly Latino, Haitian and Mayan Indian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. We have been organizing in the town of Immokalee since 1993 and have a base of nearly 4,000 members.
The CIW has two primary campaigns. Our Campaign for Fair Food seeks to improve wages and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers by calling on major buyers of tomatoes to pay a premium of one penny more per pound for their tomatoes, ensure that this penny is passed down directly to farmworkers, and work together with the CIW to establish and implement a code of conduct in their supply chains.
Our Anti-Slavery campaign is an effort to put an end to the continued existence of modern-day slavery in the agricultural industry. To date, we have worked together with the Department of Justice and the FBI to uncover, investigate and federally prosecute seven cases of modern-day slavery in Florida’s fields. We are founding members of the national network to end modern-day slavery, the Freedom Network USA, and through the Freedom Network Training Institute (FNTI), we also train law enforcement and NGOs on how to eliminate forced labor in their communities.
In 2001, we launched the Campaign for Fair Food with the first-ever farmworker boycott of a major fast-food company. The national boycott of Taco Bell called on the fast-food giant to take responsibility for human rights abuses in the fields where its produce is grown and picked.
The logic behind the Campaign for Fair Food is simple. Major corporate buyers -- companies such as Publix, Ahold, Kroger and Wal-Mart -- purchase a tremendous volume of fruits and vegetables, leveraging their buying power to demand the lowest possible prices from their suppliers. This, in turn, exerts a powerful downward pressure on wages and working conditions in these suppliers' operations.
A 2004 study released by Oxfam America, "Like Machines in the Fields: Workers without Rights in American Agriculture," concludes: "Squeezed by the buyers of their produce, growers pass on the costs and risks imposed on them to those on the lowest rung of the supply chain: the farmworkers they employ" (36). The Campaign for Fair Food aims to reverse this trend by harnessing the purchasing power of the food industry for the betterment of farmworker wages and working conditions.
In March 2005, following a four-year campaign, Taco Bell agreed to meet all of our demands. This victory established several crucial precedents for farm labor reform, including:
- The first-ever direct, ongoing payment by a fast-food industry leader to farmworkers in its supply chain to address sub-standard farm labor wages (nearly doubling the percentage of the final retail price that goes to the workers who pick the produce);
- The first-ever enforceable Code of Conduct for agricultural suppliers in the fast-food industry (which includes the CIW, a worker-based organization, as part of the investigative body for monitoring worker complaints);
- Market incentives for agricultural suppliers willing to respect their workers’ human rights, even when those rights are not guaranteed by law;
- 100% transparency for Taco Bell’s tomato purchases in Florida.
The Campaign for Fair Food did not stop at Taco Bell. With an announcement at the Carter Center in Atlanta in April 2007, McDonald's and the CIW reached a landmark accord that not only met the standards set in the Taco Bell agreement, but also committed the fast-food leader to collaborate with the CIW in developing an industry-wide third party mechanism for monitoring conditions in the fields and investigating abuses.
Following the announcement of the McDonald's agreement, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) moved to stem the growing success of the Campaign by threatening to fine any of its members that sold tomatoes under the terms of the CIW accords. As a result, two Florida growers who had been passing on the penny-per-pound increase under the Taco Bell agreement ceased doing so in late 2007.
While this move did have the effect of preventing the continued pass-through of the penny-per-pound increase, it failed in its attempt to stall the advancement of the Campaign for Fair Food.
On the contrary, the campaign continued to expand through the food industry. In an announcement at the U.S. Capitol in May 2008, the CIW announced a hard-fought agreement with Burger King. The world's second-largest burger chain also joined the CIW in calling for an industry-wide net penny per pound surcharge to increase wages for all Florida tomato harvesters. Subway soon followed suit in December 2008. With the Subway agreement, the campaign had secured the support of the world's four largest fast-food companies.
In September 2008, the campaign broke new ground with its first agreement in the supermarket industry, as leading natural and organic foods retailer Whole Foods Market agreed to work with the CIW. And in April 2009, Bon Appétit Management Co. became the first foodservice company to step up to the plate, working with the CIW to establish an "innovative new model for fair labor standards in Florida's fields."
Perhaps the most important breakthrough of the 2008-2009 season came in June 2009, when Whole Foods announced that it had secured the cooperation of two of Florida's largest organic growers -- Alderman Farms and Lady Moon Farms -- to implement its agreement with the CIW, effectively breaking the stalemate established nearly two seasons earlier by the FTGE.
To kick off the 2009-2010 season, the CIW was joined in Washington, D.C. by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to announce an agreement with foodservice giant Compass Group. Crucially, this agreement also secured the participation of East Coast Growers -- the third largest tomato producer in Florida -- in the burgeoning Fair Food program. Eric Schlosser called the development "the greatest victory for farmworkers since Cesar Chavez in the 1970's."
By August 2010, the Student/Farmworker Alliance's remarkably successful "Dine with Dignity" campaign had combined energetic campus activism with smart tactics to also bring the remaining foodservice industry leaders Aramark and Sodexo to the table.
In November 2010, the CIW and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange signed an agreement to extend the CIW's Fair Food principles – including a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process – to over 90% of Florida's tomato fields. As that agreement is implemented, many real, concrete changes have already come to some of the state's largest farms.
In 2012, Trader Joe's became the tenth corporation overall and the second supermarket company to sign a Fair Food Agreement with the CIW, formalizing the ways in which Trader Joe’s will work with the CIW and Florida tomato growers to support the CIW’s Fair Food Program. They were followed later that year by Chipotle Mexican Grill, marking a turning point in the sustainable food movement in its recognition of farmworkers as true partners in efforts to produce 'good food'.
The solution to farm labor exploitation and abuse contained in the Fair Food principles depends on the participation of all the major purchasers of Florida tomatoes. Each buyer must contribute its part -- its penny-per-pound -- to the pay raise for the raise to reach its full potential. Each buyer must commit its purchases to those growers complying with the code of conduct -- and commit to cut-off purchases from those who don't -- for working conditions to get better and stay better.
Therefore, the Campaign for Fair Food looks to continue advancing on two fronts:
1) organizing on the national level to expand its foothold in the supermarket sector and,
2) working with the participating growers here in Florida to ensure that the agreements function smoothly and effectively.
When this happens, not only will workers on those farms enjoy the improved wages and working conditions promised in the agreements, but the farms themselves will be rewarded with a growing and more stable market for their tomatoes sending a powerful message to the rest of the Florida tomato industry that the Campaign for Fair Food is not just good for farmworkers, but for Florida’s farm industry as a whole.
Virtual tour of Immokalee
shot in 2003 by Shiho Fukada
Photos from the Fields
shot in 2007 by Scott Robertson
- Like textile workers at the turn of the last century, Florida tomato harvesters are still paid by the piece. The average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32-lbs of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980. As a result of that stagnation, a worker today must pick more than 2.25 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday -- nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage thirty years ago, when the rate was 40 cents per bucket. Most farmworkers today earn less than $12,000 a year.
- In a January 2001 letter to members of Congress, the U.S. Department of Labor described farmworkers as "a labor force in significant economic distress," citing farmworkers' "low wages, sub-poverty annual earnings, [and] significant periods of un- and underemployment" to support its conclusions.
- As a result of intentional exclusion from key New Deal labor reform measures, farmworkers do not have the right to overtime pay, nor the right to organize and collectively bargain with their employers.
- In the most extreme conditions, farmworkers are held against their will and forced to work for little or no pay, facing conditions that meet the stringent legal standards for prosecution under modern-day slavery statutes. Federal Civil Rights officials have successfully prosecuted seven slavery operations involving over 1,000 workers in Florida’s fields since 1997, prompting one federal prosecutor to call Florida "ground zero for modern-day slavery." In 2010, federal prosecutors indicted two more forced labor rings operating in Florida.