TalkPoverty.org, a project of Center for American Progress, runs great read on the Fair Food Program…

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Moyers & Company also picks up article analyzing worker-led approach that drives success of CIW’s Fair Food Program…

Over the past generation, Corporate Social Responsibility programs (a field known by the acronym “CSR”) – based on a mix of corporate-drafted vendor codes of conduct, voluntary compliance, and periodic auditing – have been embraced and promoted by large corporations looking to blunt increasing public scrutiny of inhumane labor conditions in their suppliers’ operations.  Yet today, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on CSR initiatives around the globe, non-compliance with basic labor and human rights standards is still rampant, and in many industries the norm.

Driven by the persistence of humiliating, dangerous, and exploitative conditions in workplaces from the fields of Florida to the sweatshops of Bangladesh, workers themselves have begun to redefine the terms of social responsibility.  This new approach posits a way forward in which independent worker organizations take a leading role in the drafting of new labor standards, and in the monitoring and enforcement of those standards, empowered by the purchasing power of corporate buyers that support the new standards through binding agreements with the worker organizations.  This worker-led model of social responsibility — or “WSR,” to coin a term — differs from the traditional CSR approach on several levels, from its underlying objectives (CSR is driven by the imperative to prevent public relations crises, while the fundamental goal of WSR is to eliminate the underlying human rights violations that provoke those public relations crises) to its governance (corporations exercise unilateral control in the case of CSR, while  workers play a leading role, in partnership with corporations and suppliers, in the case of WSR). 

The few WSR initiatives that exist today are new and largely still in the developmental stage.  But where the WSR approach has had an opportunity to be tested, as it has in the Florida tomato industry over the past four years through the CIW’s Fair Food Program (FFP), the results have been not just encouraging, but dramatic.  TalkPoverty.org, a project of the Center for American Progress, asked the CIW to discuss the worker-driven approach behind the FFP’s success and the results it has achieved in its first three years of operation, which we did in a short article published last week and also picked up in Bill Moyers’ widely read site, Moyers & Company.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece, but be sure to read the article in its entirety:

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How did a program born in the small, hardscrabble farmworker community of Immokalee, Florida become a leading model for the protection of human rights on the global level?

Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to ask another question: “What if workers designed a social responsibility program to protect their own human rights?”  What would such a worker-designed social responsibility program look like?

The Fair Food Program is the answer to that question.  Take a moment to think about workers in any labor-intensive industry – garment, assembly, agriculture – given the time and space to study past social responsibility efforts and to build their own from scratch; sitting together, arguing, agreeing, and ultimately constructing a program to protect their own rights from the bottom up.  Some of the elements that might emerge from such a process would likely include:

A Code of Conduct with real rights: With actual workers creating their own code of conduct, it would extend beyond requiring compliance with generic standards like those of the International Labor Organization or local laws and regulations. Workers would include concrete wage increases and identify industry-specific reforms that simply wouldn’t occur to outside architects of social accountability programs.  For example, requiring unpaid work – in agriculture, workers were forced to overfill buckets when paid by the piece – would be prohibited.  Only workers know the more subtle forms their exploitation has taken over the years – the schemes designed by their employers – which comprise the net that has trapped them in poverty for decades.

Enforcement as important as the standards themselves: Most corporate social responsibility programs pay lip service – at best – to the need to enforce their standards, but a worker-designed program would put the emphasis on enforcement, because the very reason for building the program is to end longstanding abuses, not just to elaborate an attractive set of new rights.  The enforcement system would feature an important, driving role for workers themselves, including: a grievance procedure with easy access for workers and an efficient and effective response to worker complaints; wall-to-wall worker education, so that workers themselves can be the 24-hour monitors needed to ensure compliance – if all workers are informed of their rights, abusers have nowhere to safely ply their trade; an audit process that gets behind closed doors, and into the records and policies that workers themselves can’t access, because there is always a percentage of abuses that are outside the sight of the workers, like systematic minimum wage theft through the doctoring of hours.

Enforcement with real teeth: Workers know that the most direct route to getting their employers’ attention is through their bottom line.  So workers would make sure there are real, measurable financial consequences for any human rights violations – market consequences – the ultimate hammer behind the enforcement of their rights.

These are some of the elements that a worker-developed social responsibility program would include, and those are the principal elements that comprise the Fair Food Program’s uniquely successful model… read more

Don’t miss the rest of this unique look into the theory and practice of worker-led social responsibility at the heart of the Fair Food Program!