President Jimmy Carter, Michael Pollan — CIW, Fair Food Program receive high praise from high places!

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Miami_Wendys_Nov13_4494Walmart agreement, success of Fair Food Program subject of comments by former president, food movement leader…

As the recent news out of Immokalee of the CIW’s agreement with Walmart continues to reverberate through the food industry and through the world of human rights, high profile observers continue to weigh in on the developments. 

This past week, two particularly powerful voices — one a world-renowned champion of human rights, one perhaps the most respected figure of the ever-growing food movement — spoke on the the efforts by workers from Immokalee to build a more humane agricultural industry.

First up is former President Jimmy Carter.  In a statement released late last week, President Carter — a longtime observer and supporter of the Campaign for Fair Food — wrote:

carter“I was pleased to learn of the agreement between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Walmart to strengthen and expand the Fair Food Program operated by growers, supplies, and workers within the Florida tomato industry.  The Fair Food Program has shown that it is possible for industry partners to collaborate to ensure that the human rights of workers are not abused.  I look forward to the expansion of this program throughout Walmart’s produce supply chain.”

President Carter, himself a former farmer from southern Georgia, has never failed to note important developments in the fields of his neighbor state to the south, first intervening back in early 1998 during the 30-day hunger strike by six CIW members calling for dialogue with the Florida tomato industry, then helping broker the first two agreements of the Campaign for Fair Food through the Carter Center in Atlanta, GA.  His support has been invaluable throughout the years, and we thank him, again, for his continued interest in our efforts.

The second major figure to weigh in last week was Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and, most recently, Cooked.  In an interview with Amy Dean at Firedoglake, Pollan was asked for his thoughts on examples of successful efforts to address workers’ wages and working conditions in the food industry.  His answer focused on the CIW and the Campaign for Fair Food:

pollanI next asked Pollan to point to some of the bright spots around the country where fair wages and working conditions for food workers are being successfully promoted. He flagged the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), labor activists who are based in the corner of southern Florida that provides a third of America’s tomato harvest. Farm laborers in the region have been subjected to almost every indignity and injustice imaginable, including slavery.

“The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been a real beacon on this issue,” he said. “That has been a very successful movement to pressure the food industry into improving, not just the earnings, but the working conditions of some of the most exploited workers in the country. The way it was done was through the creation of a pledge, The Fair Food Agreement. Then they applied pressure through everything from negotiation, boycott, shaming – every tool in the political kit – to move several big companies to sign on. I think that that’s an interesting model. There’s the model of obviously legislating higher wages, and that’s one way to do it. But this has been a boycott led by activists and consumers and has received a lot of support from the food movement over quite a number of years.”

The innovative and comprehensive tactics utilized by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is an excellent example of food workers taking the fight to the companies. While they initially utilized the strike as a primary tactic, the group has had far greater success with secondary boycotts and other kinds of public pressure campaigns targeting brand-sensitive companies. Walmart just signed onto their Fair Food Program, which sets an industry standard of higher wages by charging one penny more in wages per pound of tomatoes picked.

I asked Pollan what other groups can learn from CIW’s example.

“They didn’t appeal to any government – state, federal or local,” Pollan responded. “They created a model pledge, [The Fair Food Agreement] that they thought would be just, and then they moved everybody there. They understood something very important. In today’s world, where government is knotted up, corporations can unilaterally make important concessions when their brands are under attack. Brands are their most important assets. When activists understand that and figure out clever ways to threaten their brands, they can achieve important gains. I think that’s the lesson of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. They really did take the high road, but it was also unrelenting pressure. If you talk to people [in management] at Burger King or Chipotle, I think you’ll find they felt besieged for a long time.”

Like President Carter, Michael Pollan is not new to the Campaign for Fair Food, and his advocacy in support of the CIW and food justice has been critical in building public awareness and making the case for major retail food corporations to join the Fair Food Program.  As the Program continues to grow and its impact expands through the food industry, we know we can continue to count on President Carter, Michael Pollan, and tens of thousands of Fair Food activists across the country to guarantee the Program’s continued success.

Check back soon for more details on next month’s big “Now Is the Time” Tour and much more from the Campaign for Fair Food!