American history happens in a watermelon shed…

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The world responds to news of the Walmart agreement!

A member of the Walmart delegation holds the Fair Food Program rights booklet during a meeting among CIW members, Florida tomato growers, Walmart representatives, and the Chairperson of the UN's Working Group on Business and Human Rights at the CIW's office ahead of last Thursday's signing ceremony at an Immokalee area tomato field.

A member of the Walmart delegation holds the Fair Food Program rights booklet during a meeting among CIW members, Florida tomato growers, Walmart representatives, and the Chairperson of the UN’s Working Group on Business and Human Rights at the CIW’s office ahead of last Thursday’s signing ceremony at an Immokalee area tomato field.

– “American history happens in a watermelon packing shed…”

– “The struggle for labor justice in the fields of the United States—and perhaps far beyond—took an historic stride forward yesterday…”

– “One of the most effective programs to curb sexual harassment and assault in the agriculture fields expands today with the inking of a national contract with Wal-Mart…”

– “Con el acuerdo anunciado, la organización de jornaleros, en su mayoría inmigrantes mexicanos junto con guatemaltecos y haitianos, logró hoy algo histórico que seguramente sorprendió al mundo laboral aquí.” ["With this new agreement, this organization of farmworkers, who are mostly Mexican, Guatemalan and Haitian immigrants, achieved something historic today that surely surprised the the labor world here."]

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CIW staff member and farmworker Julia de la Cruz (right) speaks with an Immokalee area tomato grower during last week’s meeting at CIW headquarters.

Those are just a few excerpts from the flood of commentary and reaction to the CIW’s historic agreement with Walmart, signed last week in a moving ceremony held at a watermelon packing shed in an Immokalee area tomato field.  With the landmark agreement, the CIW welcomed Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, to the Fair Food Program, the largest, most effective program for the protection of human rights in the US produce industry.  

It is hard to overstate the importance of this agreement, both for the fortunes of US farm labor and for the future of corporate social responsibility on the global level, and that fact was not lost on countless observers in the wake of last Thursday’s announcement.    

We’ve compiled a sampling of articles, tweets, and statements of support issued in response to the agreement, which follows here below.  

The Press

Wal-Mart joins initiative on farmworker pay in Fla
Jan. 16, AP / Washington Post

NAPLES, Fla. — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Thursday joined an initiative that will require its Florida tomato suppliers to increase farmworker pay and protect workers from forced labor and sexual assault, among other things.

The nation’s largest retailer became the most influential corporation to join the initiative promoted by a coalition of farmworker activists based in southwest Florida. Farmworkers with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers said they welcomed Wal-Mart to its Fair Food Program since no other company has the market strength and consumer reach it has when it comes to selling produce. [...]

[...] Florida tomato suppliers in the Fair Food Program pass on to their buyers a penny-per-pound of tomatoes pay increase for farmworkers. They also must have zero tolerance for forced labor and sexual assault and put in place a mechanism for resolving labor disputes between growers and farmworkers. The program also requires growers to allow farmworkers to form health and safety committees on each farm.

Growers in compliance earn a “Participating Grower” designation, and if they lose the designation through violations, they won’t be able to sell their tomatoes to the participating buyers, such as Wal-Mart, according to the coalition.

“This signifies a tremendous change,” Lucas Benitez, a coalition leader, said of Wal-Mart’s participation. [...]

[...] Wal-Mart’s sizable influence with suppliers — what some dub “the Wal-Mart” effect — could make that happen, as well as help make the standards pushed for by the coalition industry standards, said Michael Hicks, an economics professor at Ball State University whose research has focused on Wal-Mart.

“When a buyer out of Bentonville says, ‘This is what I want out of tomatoes,’ that influences all of the tomato market,” Hicks said. “It may not change everything, but it will influence anybody who wants to sell tomatoes through Wal-Mart.” read more

Labor Takes Historic Stride Forward as Walmart Joins Fair Food Program
Jan. 17, Civil Eats

CIW members Gerardo Reyes and Nely Rodriguez listen as Tom Leech, a Senior Vice President with Walmart, speaks at last week's signing ceremony.

CIW members Gerardo Reyes Chavez and Nely Rodriguez listen as Tom Leech, a Senior Vice President with Walmart, speaks at last week’s signing ceremony.

The struggle for labor justice in the fields of the United States—and perhaps far beyond—took an historic stride forward yesterday. At a folding table in a metal-clad produce packing shed beside a tomato field in southwestern Florida, two high-ranking executives from the giant retailer Walmart, which sells more groceries than any other company in the world, sat down beside two farmworkers and signed an agreement to join the Fair Food Program. [...]

[...] Before this week, nearly all of the fast food chains had agreed to participate (Wendy’s refuses to take part). So had all the major food service companies that supply colleges, museums, and businesses. For all the CIW’s accomplishments, there remained a giant hole in the Fair Food Program’s social safety net. With the exception of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, not a single supermarket company had signed on to the program. With the stroke of a pen, that all changed this week when Walmart joined.

The implications of the Walmart decision cannot be understated. Enormous pressure will be placed on competing grocery giants to follow Walmart’s lead. The CIW’s successes in bringing aboard competitors within food industry groups has always benefitted from a domino effect. It took four years of petitions, demonstrations, and hunger strikes for the group to convince Taco Bell to finally sign in 2005, and another two years to get McDonald’s to agree. Then the other fast food chains all but fell over themselves in a rush to the table. [...]

[...] The notion that the Fair Food Program has the potential to be a moveable template for labor justice was not lost on Alexandra Guáqueta, chair of the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, who attended the Walmart signing ceremony. Praising the Fair Food Program’s “smart mix” of tools, she said, “We are eager to see whether the Fair Food Program is able to leverage further change within participation businesses and serve as a model elsewhere in the world.” read more

Wal-Mart will pay ‘penny per pound’ tomato premium
Jan. 17, Ft. Myers News-Press

In a chilly Immokalee tomato field, the biggest retailer on the planet, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., joined the Southwest Florida-born Fair Food Program.

The grocery giant will bring its muscle and global reach to what began two decades ago as a grassroots effort to improve wages and working conditions for tomato pickers, among lowest-paid in the nation. The state’s $650 million tomato industry produces 90 percent of the nation’s winter harvest… read more

Wal-Mart to partner with farm labor group
Jan. 16, CNN Money

Alexandra Guaqueta (center), Chairwoman of the UN's Working Group on Business and Human Rights, listens during last week's meeting at CIW headquarters.

Alexandra Guáqueta (center), Chairwoman of the UN’s Working Group on Business and Human Rights, listens during last week’s meeting at CIW headquarters.

Wal-Mart announced a partnership Thursday with a workers’ rights group in Florida in an effort to boost pay and labor standards in the tomato-growing industry.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers said Wal-Mart (WMTFortune 500) has signed on to “strengthen and expand” its Fair Food Program, which consists of a commitment from corporate buyers to pay an additional penny per pound of tomatoes that then gets passed on to workers. There is also a human rights code of conduct that deals with safety, dispute resolution and other issues. [...]

[...] As part of the partnership, Wal-Mart says it will work to expand the Fair Food Program to other crops besides tomatoes.

The retailer will also “[r]eward those Florida tomato suppliers whose operations best reflect the principles of the Fair Food Program with longer-term purchase commitments.” All suppliers will be subject to audits. read  more

Here’s Why Florida Farmworkers Are Thrilled About Walmart’s Extra Pennies
Jan. 17, Take Part

“No other buyer of tomatoes has the buying power and influence that Walmart holds with it,” Geraldo Reyes Chávez, a farmworker and CIW staff member, said of the deal.

“I feel this is a wake-up call for the rest of the retail industry,” Chávez said, “the rest of the supermarkets especially”—a sector of the food industry where the CIW has previously gained little ground. “The fact that Walmart is joining what we created to deal with abusive conditions in the fields, and using their buying power to support these, it’s going to be really big in terms of how other buyers, for example Publix [a Florida-based supermarket chain], are behaving in front of this great opportunity to do things right.” read more

Walmart acuerda respetar normas laborales de jornaleros de Immokalee
Jan. 17, La Jornada (Mexico)

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Members of the CIW’s Comite Central review coverage of last week’s agreement this past Sunday.

La organización de jornaleros Coalición de Trabajadores de Immokalee firmó hoy un acuerdo con Walmart en el cual logran que la comercializadora más grande del mundo se comprometa a apoyar un código de derechos y normas laborales y contribuir a un fondo para incrementar salarios y prestaciones de los jornaleros dedicados al cultivo de jitomates en Florida. [...] 

[...]  con el acuerdo anunciado, la organización de jornaleros, en su mayoría inmigrantes mexicanos junto con guatemaltecos y haitianos, logró hoy algo histórico que seguramente sorprendió al mundo laboral aquí.

[TRANSLATION] The farmworker organization, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, signed an agreement with Walmart today in which the largest retailer in the world committed to supporting a code of labor rights and regulations, and to paying a premium to increase the wages of farmworkers who harvest Florida tomatoes. [...]

[...]  with this new agreement, this organization of farmworkers, who are mostly Mexican, Guatemalan and Haitian immigrants, achieved something historic today that surely surprised the the labor world. read more

Wal-Mart signs deal with farmworker program that fights harassment
Jan. 16, Center for Investigative Reporting

CIW staff members and farmworkers Lupe Gonzalo (left) and Silvia Perez speak to Walmart representatives, Florida tomato growers, and the Chairwoman of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights at last week's meeting ahead of the signing ceremony.

CIW staff members and farmworkers Lupe Gonzalo (left) and Silvia Perez speak during last week’s meeting ahead of the signing ceremony.

One of the most effective programs to curb sexual harassment and assault in the agriculture fields expands today with the inking of a national contract with Wal-Mart.

The company, the world’s largest retailer, becomes the 12th buyer to participate in the Fair Food Program, joining businesses such as Whole Foods Market, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Trader Joe’s. [...]

[...] Under the new agreement, Wal-Mart also will work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which founded the program, to expand Fair Food to non-Florida growers during the summer harvest season and to broaden the program to other crops. read more

Statements of Support

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“Walmart’s agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a landmark for both the company and the Coalition. By agreeing to sign –and expand– the Fair Food Program, Walmart has demonstrated its commitment to take responsibility not just for the sustainability of its supply chain but for the welfare of the workers in that supply chain. Both parties to this agreement are to be congratulated. Let’s hope that other retailers follow Walmart’s lead.” — Michael Pollan

“Farm Aid celebrates the Fair Food Agreement between Walmart and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).  CIW’s extraordinary worker-led organizing that created this success offers a shining example to the all-too-many American workers who are struggling to survive with poverty wages.   Family farmers, farm laborers and food workers all deserve a fair price for their work.  Eaters deserve a transparent, healthful and just food supply. CIW has made an important contribution to this goal with its campaigns and its many successes for Fair Food Agreements.” — Farm Aid

“I congratulate Wal-Mart for signing this agreement, endorsing the Fair Food Program, and acknowledging that every worker deserves not only a safe work place but also a living wage.” — Eric Schlosser

“We celebrate with you the money that thousands of workers will earn from now on. Fantastic! We celebrate the victory that results in even greater power for the Coalition and for the Fair Food Program, and more power for every worker in the fields of Florida and in the fields of other states. We celebrate this victory with you, and for the children who will enjoy the benefits of your long, hard campaign.” — Sue Carter, Ohio Fair Food

And… Social Media!

CIW members, Walmart representatives look on during last week's signing ceremony.

CIW members, including Cruz Salucio (left), and Walmart representatives look on during last week’s signing ceremony.

Check back for more soon on last week’s agreement and for some big news from the Campaign for Fair Food (hint: it’s that time again…)!

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