BREAKING NEWS: Walmart joins CIW’s Fair Food Program!

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World’s largest retailer to put unprecedented market power behind groundbreaking Fair Food Program; Will work with CIW “to strengthen and expand” the FFP beyond Florida and into new crops!

Walmart representatives John Amaya (left), Tom Leech (center) and CIW’s Lucas Benitez, Gerardo Reyes Chavez, and Nely Rodriguez (far right) sign historic agreement at a Lipman Produce farm outside of Immokalee.

United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights says FFP “offers promise for us all,” is “eager to see whether Fair Food Program is able to… serve as a model elsewhere in the world.”

This afternoon, at a ceremony held under a watermelon packing shed on a tomato farm outside of Immokalee (photo above), Walmart and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers signed an historic agreement for the world’s largest retailer to join the CIW’s Fair Food Program, the widely-acclaimed social responsibility program that is bringing real, measurable change to the men and women who harvest tomatoes for Florida’s $650 million tomato industry.  As part of the agreement, Walmart will work with the CIW to expand the Fair Food Program beyond Florida and into “other crops beyond tomatoes in its produce supply chain.”

Alexandra Guáqueta, chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, also attended the signing ceremony “to support the Immokalee workers and the Fair Food Program, which offers such promise for us all,” and conveyed a statement on behalf of the Working Group.  The statement praises the Fair Food Program for its “smart mix” of monitoring and enforcement tools, including “market incentives for growers and retailers, monitoring policies and, crucially, a robust and accessible mechanism to resolve complaints and provide remedy,” adding, “Workers have no fear of retaliation if they identify problems.”  The statement concludes, “We are eager to see whether the Fair Food Program is able to leverage further change within participating businesses, and serve as a model elsewhere in the world.” 

Walmart, CIW, Fair Food Standards Council, Florida growers, and a UN representative gather at CIW headquarters for a discussion of the Fair Food Program before the signing ceremony outside of Immokalee

Walmart, CIW, Fair Food Standards Council, Florida growers, and a UN representative gather at CIW headquarters for a discussion of the Fair Food Program before the signing ceremony outside of Immokalee

“A better way to buy fruits and vegetables grown and harvested here in the US”…

 A joint press release issued following the ceremony outlined the highlights of the agreement:

By joining forces with its Florida tomato suppliers and the CIW, Walmart’s involvement will strengthen and expand the existing Program’s impact on farmworkers, and demonstrate the company’s continued commitment to the Florida tomato industry as a whole.  As part of the agreement, Walmart will work with CIW on the following objectives:

  • Expand the Fair Food Program beyond Florida to its tomato purchases from participating  Florida-based growers with operations outside the state during the summer harvest season;
  • Reward those Florida tomato suppliers whose operations best reflect the principles of the Fair Food Program with longer term purchase commitments;
  • Work over time to expand the Fair Food Program to other crops beyond tomatoes in its produce supply chain;
  • Work with its Florida tomato suppliers to build the current Fair Food Premium directly into Walmart’s cost for Florida tomatoes, with the growers continuing to pass on the Fair Food bonus to their workers as part of the established, traceable payment system that is monitored by the Fair Food Standards Council;
  • Support the CIW and its participating Florida tomato suppliers to eventually achieve a higher, more sustainable bucket rate paid to workers for harvesting tomatoes. This change will streamline the financial foundation of the Fair Food Program to focus resources on raising the bar for ethical farm labor conditions beyond the Florida tomato industry.

Walmart Senior Vice President of Global Food Sourcing, Tom Leech, signed the agreement on behalf of the company and had the following comments for the release:

“Walmart and our suppliers are committed to strong ethical sourcing standards and every day we work to help ensure the products we sell are produced in a way that provides fair treatment for workers in our supply chain,” said Tom Leech, senior vice president of Global Food Sourcing for Walmart.  “Our participation in the Fair Food Program combined with long term supply agreements with our suppliers will ensure that our customers get great products at great prices from suppliers that are working to improve the lives of their workers.“

The CIW’s Cruz Salucio added:

“We are truly pleased to welcome Walmart into the Fair Food Program.   No other company has the market strength and consumer reach that Walmart has,” said Cruz Salucio of the CIW.  “Through this collaboration, not only will thousands of hard-working farm workers see concrete improvements to their lives, but millions of consumers will learn about the Fair Food Program and of a better way to buy fruits and vegetables grown and harvested here in the US.”

What does it all mean?…

With the ink still drying on the agreement, it is difficult to say with any certitude what the long-term impact of today’s news will be.  But there are some things that are certain about the significance of the agreement straight out of the gate:

  1. Immediate, concrete benefits for tens of thousands of Florida farmworkers – Today’s agreement will bring immediate and concrete benefits to tens of thousands of farmworkers in the Florida tomato industry.  Roughly 30,000 workers will benefit directly from this agreement, via the Fair Food Premium and/or through Walmart’s support for the human rights standards in the Fair Food Code of Conduct already in place at the farms where they work.  For a program like the FFP, which is fueled by the market power of its retail partners, the participation of the single biggest company in the food industry today — or in the history of the planet, for that matter — will bring about the greatest impact on workers’ lives that any individual new partner could contribute to the Program.  

  2. The power of the Fair Food Program model to improve the lives of workers beyond Florida and beyond tomatoes – The agreement also demonstrates the power of the Fair Food Program to improve the lives of many, many more workers beyond Florida and beyond tomatoes.  With its unique standards and multiple, reinforcing mechanisms to monitor and enforce those standards, the Fair Food Program is fast becoming a model for worker-led, market-driven social responsibility that is a possible solution to longstanding exploitation in supply chains well beyond the FFP’s current field of operation.  The United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights’ statement on the agreement makes plain this tremendous potential for the application of the Fair Food Program model to a diverse and sweeping array of labor contexts throughout the world.

  3. What now, Publix? – Finally, this agreement begs one very simple question: What now, Publix?  What possible pretext could Publix turn to now to justify its refusal to join the Fair Food Program, quickly becoming the recognized gold standard for the protection of human rights in the US produce industry today?  For more than four years, Publix has steadfastly turned its back on hundreds of thousands of customers demanding that it join the Fair Food Program, shielding itself with one simple phrase: “Put it in the price.”  According to Publix’s public relations department, the company is not opposed to paying a fairer price for its Florida tomatoes, it just doesn’t like the way the Fair Food Program implements the premium that goes to increase farmworkers’ wages.  Publix says that if the penny-per-pound were put in the price of the tomatoes it buys, it would be all in.  

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    Well, now – even more than before – it is.  As the press release makes clear, the Fair Food Premium is put into the price charged to Walmart by its suppliers, who then back the premium out of the price and pass it on to their workers as a line item bonus on their weekly paychecks, a process tracked and audited by the Fair Food Standards Council, the independent organization that oversees the Fair Food Program.  It’s time, finally, for Publix to leave the past behind and to take up the mantle of leadership as the grocery industry enters the 21st century.

And so, 2014 begins with a bang.  Florida tomato harvesters can look forward to still more concrete improvements in the fields beginning today, while workers beyond Florida, and even beyond the United States, can begin to imagine a world in which market power enriches — rather than impoverishes — their lives. 

And the Fair Food Nation, fueled with new energy from this historic agreement, can hit the streets with renewed vigor in the months ahead as they take the fight to Publix, Wendy’s, Kroger, Giant, and Stop & Shop.  Stay tuned for more on this breaking news, and for more on this spring’s big action, just months away!

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