May 14, 2009
Excerpt from new book highlights CIW Anti-Slavery Campaign!...
Here below is an extended excerpt from the new book on modern-day slavery by Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter that takes a close look the CIW's work to fight slavery in the fields.
The first paragraph below describes the barbaric conditions on the labor camps that were the focus of the CIW's first major slavery case, a case that took five years to carry from investigation to sentencing:
"... Despite all the efforts being put forth by the CIW, and the dozens of witnesses and escapees who had come forward, life went on undisturbed in Flores’s camps. Many mornings, Sebastian Gomez woke the workers by firing his 9-millimeter semi-automatic Smith and Wesson pistol in the air, and his partner, Miguel Flores, would punctuate his curses in the fields with shots from his own gun. When vendors or visitors approached his camps, he drove them off by brandishing his pistol or firing over their heads. On one occasion, he shot out a visitor’s tires. Over the years, Flores was arrested periodically on firearms and abuse charges, and sometimes he was bailed out by the local growers for whom he supplied the workers. He was never prosecuted. Former Department of Labor Senior Investigator Armando Brana states, “In my files, I have seven reports of workers who disappeared or died while working for Flores. Even for those who were shot, it was listed as ‘death by natural causes.’ Some, it seemed, fell off a bridge, or were hit by a tractor or a bus….” Investigations were cursory. “In one case,” recalls Brana, “the coroner on the case was the farmer Flores was working for!"...”
The story continues, describing the sentencing and the courageous testimony of CIW member Julia Gabriel (shown here on the right during the CIW's "Root Cause" march in Miami, 2003), who would later be recognized for her valor with the 2003 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award:
"... Finally, in October 1996, an indictment was brought in the U.S. District Court in South Carolina, against Miguel Flores, Sebastian Gomez, and two of their recruiters, on charges of conspiracy, involuntary servitude, extortion, illegal possession of a firearm, use of a firearm in the commission of a violent crime, transporting and harboring aliens, and unlawful entry into the United States after deportation. The judge considered the defendants a high flight risk, and ordered them held without bail.
In May 1997 – nearly five years after the CIW started its campaign against the Flores slavery ring – the defendants entered a plea of guilty. This left only the sentencing hearing. Julia Gabriel, the tiny woman with the big story to tell, came forward to speak for a severe sentence. She told her story, and that of friends and co-workers who had been threatened and brutalized, and when she finished, she said, “That’s what I saw. And everything they did to others, they had no compassion for them. A lot of people were hurt. And there were a lot of victims, because they were very sure of themselves, and they could do anything. And they took advantage of the people, and that’s why I’m here, so that they will receive a harsh sentence, because they hurt a lot of people…and these people did nothing to them. These people are victims….And now is the moment of sentencing, and what I want is for them to see that…if they are prisoners…they will see what they did to other people. And if they are given a short sentence then they can, once they are out…go for revenge, and no, that shouldn’t be. They are bad people. And that’s the truth I’m telling you.”
The court believed her. Flores and Gomez were each sentenced to 15 years in federal prison..."
The excerpt ends with an analysis of the significance of the Flores case, a seminal case in the movement to end modern-day slavery:
"... The conviction of Flores was a landmark case, and instrumental in bringing about the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in 2000, with its sets of definitions, charges and penalties for dealing specifically with cases of sex and labor slavery in the United States. And from a time when, in the words of (federal agent) Mike Baron, “you could fit the whole anti-slavery movement in the back of my patrol truck,” it helped spark the anti-human trafficking effort in the country today. Baron is lavish in his praise of the Coalition’s efforts: “If law enforcement had the same dedication and tenacity as the CIW, and weren’t bound by our restrictions, there wouldn’t be a place for the criminals to hide. They maintained contact with the workers, and tracked the movements of the crew leaders. Without the CIW, we wouldn’t have had any witnesses; we never would have found the victims."
CIW wins Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice! (yes, that Salem...)
The Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice Foundation has selected the Coalition of ImmokaleeWorkers to receive its 17th annual human rights award "for its work to eliminate modern day slavery in the agricultural industry"! You can read about the announcement on the foundation's website, here.
Brian Watson, a columnist for the Salem News, traveled recently to Immokalee and has written a series of excellent opinion pieces on the situation of farmworkers in Immokalee and the CIW's Campaign for Fair Food. You can read his columns here:
- "Salem award winner leads fight against exploitation," Salem News 5/6/09
- "Exploited farm workers pick the tomatoes we eat," Salem News 4/24/09
The foundation's website describes their mission and the unique roots of their work:
"The Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice Foundation was established in 2001 to carry on the work of the Salem Witch Trials Tercentenary Committee. The Foundation, under the leadership of the Mayor of the City of Salem and the President of Salem State College, works in cooperation with local museums, the National Park Service, the business community, and the larger community to keep alive the lessons of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and to make known in our region the unheralded, heroic work of bringing justice to fruition in contemporary society.
Our mission is to recognize, honor, and perpetuate the commitment to social justice and human rights of an individual and/or organization whose work is proven to have alleviated discrimination and promoted tolerance of any kind." read more
In a separate article from the Salem News reporting the announcement of the 2009 award, Meg Twohey of the Salem Foundation explains the connection between Salem and Immokalee:
"Meg Twohey, a member of the Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice Foundation, said the lives of Immokalee farmworkers and Salem residents do cross paths.
'Their tomatoes are delivered to our fast-food restaurants and to our table, so we are a part of a food chain that goes all the way back to their work and to the very difficult conditions they continue to have,' Twohey said. 'But certainly none of us would imagine it would involve slavery.'"
Here are the details for the May 8th award ceremony:
The Salem Award presentation and reception, set for Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Peabody Essex Museum, is free, though reservations are recommended because space is limited. Lucas Benitez, one of the coalition's founders, and Gerardo Reyes-Chavez will talk about their work and accept the award on behalf of the group.
A dinner with the award recipients will be held beforehand at the Hawthorne Hotel at 5:30 p.m. and tickets are $50.
Reservations for either event can be made by calling 978-745-2682 or visiting www.SalemAward.org.
The CIW is humbled by this tremendous honor and we look forward to working with the Salem foundation in the months ahead to continue the fight for fundamental human rights and social justice in the agricultural industry.
May 4, 2009
CIW speaks at conference on slavery in Vienna, Austria!
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) organizes special conference "on trafficking for labour exploitation focusing on the agricultural sector," invites CIW to share experience...
The CIW's Anti-Slavery Campaign coordinator, Laura Germino (pictured below, left), traveled last week to Vienna, Austria, to talk about the CIW's work combating slavery here in the fields of Florida and how lessons learned in the course of our experience might aid the OSCE's member states in their own battle with the growing problem of agricultural slavery.
Here's an excerpt from the CIW's presentation, delivered to an audience (above) comprised mainly of policy makers and representatives of government authorities:
"... When the CIW began in the early 1990s, we did not set out to be an anti-slavery organization – it was formed as a labor and human rights organization, fighting for better wages and dignity for farmworkers. But in the course of our work, we came across first one forced labor case, then another, then another, and it became clear that the initial cases were not anomalies, but rather that an all-too significant percentage of the overall farm workforce is being held against their will. So today, we have an Anti-Slavery Campaign focusing on investigation, training, and prevention as part of our organization’s overall mission...
... We now have a network of members who work across the Southeast who can report suspected instances of peers being held against their will, because the community as a whole has been educated on the issue. We have staff and members who conduct labor rights outreach at worker housing, through house-to-house visits up north, as well as community radio programs and weekly meetings in our home base. This anti-slavery education takes place within a broader framework of overall labor and human rights campaigns. If a degraded labor environment does tip over into actual slavery – and I’ll discuss in a minute the difference – peers of the captive workers will recognize it and will also understand that something can be done about it..."
Check back soon for a complete text of the CIW's presentation!
May 1, 2009
Groundbreaking agreement with Bon Appetit hits the headlines, blogosphere...
Here's some of the buzz generated by this week's announcement (photo on the right again by Kelli Stanko, Washington Post):
- "Grist.org" - "Over the past week, much attention has been focused on the “B” part of that classic U.S. sandwich, the BLT. The swine flu outbreak has quite rightly raised questions about the environemtal/public health implications of modern industrial hog production. Almost lost amid the furor was much happier news about the “T” part of the delectable lunch item..." more
- "The Ethicurean" - "... Florida’s tomato growers have a special infernal circle reserved for them: they fought tooth and nail against a penny-a-pound increase (workers’ wages hadn’t risen in three decades), but even after their fast-food customers caved to consumer pressure and agreed to pay the increase, they have som ehow avoided passing it along to worker... I look forward to seeing [Bon Appetit] face off against the tomato growers, with possibly Whole Foods joining the cause." more
- "La Vida Locavore" - "... I've long been in awe of the excellent, continued campaign run by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the group representing the workers in Florida's tomato fields... I honestly cannot even imagine the hell those workers live through every single day of their lives. My friend Jim Goodman joined a delegation that visited Immokalee earlier this year and he posted his comments along with some photos here. The trip REALLY affected him, which makes me think that as serious as I take this issue, I STILL underestimate the severity of the workers' situation... Congrats to Bon Appetit for their strong moral stance and to the Immokalee workers for their victory. And shame on any company that does not do the same." more
- "The Daily Table" - "... While many people think the sustainable food movement has solely to do with food, environment, and processing, a large part is fair treatment for workers. Bon Appétit, along with stores like Whole Foods and others, are starting to work this idea of fair treatment into their philosophies." more
- Ft. Myers News-Press - "First, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers took on fast food. Then came natural food. Now, it's targeting campus and corporate food, with a powerful new ally pledging support - and dollars - to the group's Campaign for Fair Food..." more
Stay tuned for more news as the Campaign for Fair Food continues to gather momentum!April 29, 2009
Fair Food movement breaks ground in foodservice industry!
CIW forges "innovative new model for fair labor standards in Florida's tomato fields" with foodservice leader Bon Appetit.
- Click here for the joint CIW-Bon Appetit press release
- See the Washington Post article here (photo above shows CIW and Student/Farmworker Alliance members on tour of the Immokalee community with Bon Appetit executives, photo by Kelli Stanko)
Gerardo Reyes of the CIW: "The future of a fairer tomato industry is being written today, and this agreement is a rough draft. It's not a final product, and it's not meant to be. But it is a great first cut at building a relationship between farmworkers and their employers based on a genuine appreciation for the value of farmworkers' labor - something that has been absent since the birth of the agricultural industry in Florida - and driven by a vision of universal human rights. We see this as a golden opportunity for Florida's smaller, family-scale farmers to gain access to a market that has traditionally been beyond their reach, and to help elevate Florida's agricultural industry in the process."
Fedele Bauccio, CEO of Bon Appétit Management Company: "America's agricultural workers do jobs that are far more difficult and dangerous than the average retail or restaurant worker, yet these jobs are critical to our entire food chain. When I met with workers in the fields and saw first-hand how difficult their lives are, I knew that I could not, in good conscience, contribute to such a system. We buy almost 5 million pounds of tomatoes a year. I decided to use that power to make a real difference in the supply chain."
Dolores Huerta, Co-Founder, UFW: "We congratulate Bon Appétit Management Company for their support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to bring humane treatment to those that bring the food to our table. This historic partnership between the food industry and farmworkers can end the slavery and slave-like conditions that farmworkers are subjected to in Florida and other states. ¡Si Se Puede!"
Check back for more on the groundbreaking agreement soon...April 27, 2009
Alliance for Fair Food wins two great new endorsements!
Roger Doiron of White House garden fame, and Curt Ellis of Wicked Delicate Films (and recent Peabody Award winner for "King Corn") join the Campaign for Fair Food!
Two more standouts of the sustainable food movement have lent their support to the Campaign for Fair Food.
Roger Doiron (shown here on the left relaxing in his garden) is one of the country's leading advocates for local and regional food systems. He is founder and director of Kitchen Gardeners International (KGI), a Maine-based nonprofit network of over 10,000 individuals from 100 countries who are "taking a (dirty) hands-on approach to relocalizing the food supply." But he is perhaps best known for his leadership role in the "Eat the View" movement, the campaign to "plant high-impact food gardens in high-profile places," with its greatest victory to date being the recently planted south lawn of the White House!
Also this past week, Curt Ellis -- one of the hot new filmmakers behind the Peabody-award winning film "King Corn" (directed by Aaron Woolf) -- added his voice to the growing call for Fair Food. Together with Ian Cheney, he founded Wicked Delicate Films (according to the website, "Wicked Delicate is among the finest compliments a Mainer can give to a wild blueberry pie..."). Their company makes engaging, hip, well-crafted films with a message, the heart of their mission to "advance important messages about sustainability, the environment, and the human relationship to the natural world." If you haven't seen it yet, take a couple of minutes to check out the trailer at the King Corn website (then get the movie)!April 24, 2009
Campaign for Fair Food at the 2009 Food & Society Conference!...
Also... Must-read op/ed: "Farmworker wages still the issue"
This week, representatives of the CIW, the Student/Farmworker Alliance and Just Harvest USA traveled to San Jose, California -- the town where Cesar Chavez first started organizing in 1952 -- for the 2009 Food & Society conference, an annual gathering that seeks "to identify ways to improve our economy, environment, and society through Good Food Systems."
Over the course of the conference, they met with leading advocates for sustainable food and agriculture from across the country to discuss the importance of Fair Food in the movement for good food. In the picture above, Gerardo Reyes of the CIW helps lead a workshop on the CIW's Campaign for Fair Food. The campaign was a popular topic at the two-day conference, and the CIWApe delegation came back to Florida with a number of new allies, including the much-respected farm-to-school advocate Ann Cooper, (also known as "the renegade lunch lady") who became the newest endorser of the Alliance for Fair Food!
Coincidentally, on the last day of the conference, one member of the CIW delegation had an op-ed published in the Ft. Myers News-Press highlighting the urgency of farm labor reform and the elimination of modern-day slavery. Here's an excerpt from "Farmworker wages are still the issue" (4/24) :
"... As Gov. Crist concurred last month, the solution to the scourge of slavery in Florida's fields lies with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' Campaign for Fair Food. In the short term, it creates the first-ever market consequences for growers that use forced labor. In the long run, it raises the wage floor and creates a voice for farmworkers in the industry, addressing the poverty and powerlessness that give rise to slavery in the first place.
Members of the CIW have gone undercover in slavery operations, have investigated and helped win federal slavery prosecutions, and, in all too many cases, have been held against their will, beaten by their employers - or worse - and forced to work for little or no pay. That is why the CIW has come up with a clear-eyed, comprehensive program designed to eradicate slavery, roots and all.
If Florida growers are serious about cleaning up their image, they must, in the words of Crist, "participate in the campaign," so that we may at long last end Florida's harvest of shame." read more here
[The picture above is from a Flickr page posted by a Food & Society Conference participant. It is of a mural dedicated to Cesar Chavez and reads, "The first principle of non-violent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating." Indeed.]
Stay tuned in the coming days for more exciting news from the world of sustainable food as the Campaign for Fair Food continues to break new ground!
Reaction to Gov. Crist statement continues, and the consensus is in: Strong words, time now for even stronger actions...April 8, 2009
The response to Governor Crist's groundbreaking support for the CIW's Campaign for Fair Food -- and shot across the bow of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) for its stubborn opposition to progress for Florida's farmworkers -- continues to roll in.
Here below are, in order, an article, an editorial, and a letter that all, for the most part, say the same thing: We appreciate the good words, now let's get down to action, because change is long overdue:
- "Harvest of Hope," Gourmet Magazine (the picture above is from the Gourmet article)
- "Crist finally joins battle," Ft. Myers News-Press editorial
- Letter to Governor Crist from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Here's an excerpt from the Gourmet article that captures the growing consensus. The article begins:
"Actions may speak louder than words, but when they are the right ones, words can be extremely powerful. And Florida Governor Charlie Crist said all the right ones in a letter he sent last week to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an advocacy group for farm laborers’ rights based in southern Florida...
"Crist signed off by saying, 'I look forward to working with you and your organization in the future to advance these important causes.' Having spent time in Florida’s tomato fields and farmworkers’ communities, I can assure the governor that he’ll find there’s still plenty of work to do."
Indeed. There is plenty to do, starting with moving the FTGE out of the way of progress so that the Campaign for Fair Food -- and, specifically, its penny per pound raise -- can take its course.
As we periodically remind the readers of this site, the arc of history does indeed bend toward justice. But we can no longer afford to wait for time alone to bring change. Rather all hands must, now, be laid on that arc to speed its bending, and in so doing, speed the day that Florida can finally put an end to its "Harvest of Shame."April 7, 2009
Sustainable food leader weighs in on human rights crisis in Florida's fields!...
Also: Op/eds on Governor's intervention keep coming...
As is often the case, when the news is coming hot and heavy, some important stories can get put on the back burner. That was the case with a letter from the sustainable food/organic farm legend Swanton Berry Farm of California that arrived at the CIW just days before last month's meeting with Governor Crist.
Like thousands of letters and emails from across the country at the time, the Swanton Berry Farm letter specifically called on Gov. Crist to take a stand against slavery here in Florida. But its message was much broader than that and deserves to be heard now that the dust has settled in Tallahassee. Here's an excerpt:
"... Swanton Berry Farm’s philosophy has always been that producing the highest quality and best-tasting fruits and vegetables requires respecting the rights of the workers who grow them. Towards this end we have worked to ensure that workers have an active voice in the workplace and they are compensated fairly for their labor...
... At Swanton Berry Farm, we have discovered that these measures provide the basis for a socially responsible and economically sound business model. Since signing the union contract, the company has expanded its market substantially. While our labor costs may be higher than many other agricultural employers, we realize a return on this investment in the form of high quality produce and satisfied customers. Our experience provides evidence that commercial success need not come at the expense of those who perform the critical work of planting, maintaining, and harvesting our crops."
You can learn more about Swanton Berry Farm and how they have implemented that philosophy in their operation here. Clearly, there's a lesson here -- a potentially very profitable lesson -- for any Florida tomato grower willing to think outside the box. But as the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water...
Meanwhile, two more powerful opinion pieces came out since our last update. You can read them here:
- "Crist backs farmworkers," Bill Maxwell, St. Peterburg Times
- "Governor needs to take the lead on worker justice," Jim Goodman (organic dairy farmer and Kellogg Food and Society fellow), Ft. Myers News-Press.
Like the midwestern family farmer he is, Jim Goodman closes his op/ed with some straight-shooting advice for Florida's tomato growers: "The growers must allow the increased wages to reach the workers; the growers are accountable for the working conditions in their fields. Abuse and slavery in Florida will end only when the growers recognize that public opinion is against their plantation mentality."March 30, 2009
Reaction to Gov. Crist's stance on farm labor justice strongly positive!...
Governor Crist's support for the CIW's Campaign for Fair Food and admonishment of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) for its opposition to the Campaign have received positive reviews across the board. Below is a letter to the editor in today's Naples Daily News by the Rev. Russell L. Meyer, Tampa, Executive director, Florida Council of Churches, that is typical of the support for the Governor Crist's groundbreaking stance:
Letter: Crist does the right thing
Gov. Charlie Crist is to be commended for meeting last Wednesday with representatives of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, hearing their stories and responding with appropriate compassion.
According to the Daily News, Crist said, “I’m not a man driven by anger, much, but two things will: injustice and arrogance. I detect from the briefings I’ve had and the meeting I just had that there may be a bit of both at work here and that concerns me greatly. We want to be a continuing partner to try to help with their plight.”
Farmworkers are often the forgotten laborers in Florida’s economy; yet we all depend on them greatly for our daily food. There have been far too many reports of farmworker abuse and modern slavery, on top of the hard-edge labor/management issues that have prevented them from receiving the additional wage support that large tomato users, such as McDonald’s, Yum! Brands, Burger King and Whole Foods, are now paying into escrow accounts.
Sure and swift prosecution of those who enslave and brutalize farmworkers must be an unquestionable habit for our justice system. Crist can make certain that happens.
To prevent laborers from receiving the earnings that the food industry wishes to reward them is a form of economic abuse. Crist would do right to use the leverage of his office to see that the escrow funds are distributed to their intended recipients.
The degraded labor conditions that give rise to slavery must be addressed so that never again are farmworkers enslaved in our state’s fields. Crist can marshal state resources to ensure fair labor conditions in Florida fields.
Farmworkers and their supporters thank Gov. Crist for hearing their plight, and we look forward to his partnership in seeing that right is done by them.
Rev. Russell L. Meyer, Tampa, Executive director, Florida Council of Churches
For more coverage, click on the following links:
- Ft. Myers News-Press: "Governor Crist praises the Coalition of Immokalee Workers"
- Naples Daily News: "Gov. Crist supports better working conditions for farmworkers"
March 27, 2009
Governor Crist letter to CIW: "I support the Coalition's Campaign for Fair Food,"... "I encourage the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and its members to participate in the campaign..."
Lucas Benitez, CIW: "Today, with the addition of a single voice, the chorus of support for the Campaign for Fair Food grew immeasurably stronger."
Governor Charlie Crist issued a letter to the CIW's Lucas Benitez and Gerardo Reyes late yesterday. The letter reiterated his support for the Campaign for Fair Food, called on the FTGE to participate in the CIW's agreements with corporate purchasers of Florida tomatoes, and closed with a reaffirmation of his commitment to work with the CIW toward a Florida agricultural industry free of labor abuse. Here below are the highlights of the letter (you can see the whole letter on Governor Crist's website by clicking here):
- "I have no tolerance for slavery in any form, and I am committed to eliminating this injustice anywhere in Florida..."
- "I support the Coalition's Campaign for Fair Food, whereby corporate purchasers of tomatoes have agreed to contribute monies for the benefit of the tomato field workers. I commend these purchasers for their participation, and I encourage the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and its members to participate in the campaign so that these monies can reach and provide assistance to the workers..."
- "I look forward to working with you and your organization in the future to advance these important causes."
The CIW issued the following response:
Lucas Benitez: "Today, with the addition of a single voice, the chorus of support for the Campaign for Fair Food grew immeasurably stronger.
We are tremendously pleased to see that Governor Charlie Crist has chosen to lend his support to our campaign. There can be no doubt that this marks a significant step forward toward our vision of an agricultural industry founded on the respect of human rights, not the exploitation of human beings. We, too, look eagerly forward to working with Governor Crist to make this vision a reality."
Gerardo Reyes: "There is, of course, much to be done. And the first order of business is for the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) to end its senseless opposition to our agreements with food industry leaders, so that farmworkers may receive the increased wages promised in those agreements. While the leadership of the FTGE may not yet realize it, the market around them is changing, and a more modern, more humane agricultural industry is undoubtedly in the interest of all the growers it represents. As John Chidsey, the CEO of Burger King, said in the announcement of our agreement last year, 'If the Florida tomato industry is to be sustainable long-term, it must become more socially responsible.'
Today's announcement by Governor Crist also sends a strong message to the rest of the restaurant and supermarket industry: Now is the time to join Yum Brands, McDonalds, and Burger King, Subway and Whole Foods in righting the wrongs that have been allowed to linger in Florida’s fields for far too long."
For more coverage, click on the following links:
- Ft. Myers News-Press: "Governor Crist praises the Coalition of Immokalee Workers"
- Naples Daily News: "Gov. Crist supports better working conditions for farmworkers"
March 19, 2009
Meanwhile, back at the Campaign for Fair Food...
Two of Holland's leading musicians drop by supermarket industry giant Ahold (headquartered in Amsterdam) to deliver the Alliance for Fair Food letter!
Dutch composer Louis Andriessen and Dutch-American violinist Monica Germino paid a surprise visit to the Amsterdam corporate headquarters of retail food giant Ahold last week. Ahold is the parent company of five major grocery chains in the US (including Stop and Shop and Giant) and six more in Europe. They dropped off a copy of the Alliance for Fair Food letter and a packet of background information on the Campaign for Fair Food. The letter reads, in part:
"It is vitally important that your company take an active role in advancing human rights and fair wages for farmworkers given that your company’s low-cost, high-volume tomato purchasing practices help to create conditions in the fields where poverty wages and other human rights abuses flourish." read more
The visit to Ahold was the first celebrity letter drop of the campaign, and a bold step forward on the European front! For a better idea of the "radically alternative musical aesthetic" with which both Mr. Andriessen and Ms. Germino are associated, take a moment to watch this short video. March 15, 2009
Food Justice delegation writers do what they do best!
Check out reports from Francis Moore Lappe, Raj Patel, Tom Philpott of Grist.org, and Eric Holt-Gimenez of Food First on March 5th visit to Immokalee...
Last week's visit to Immokalee by some of the leading lights of the growing Food Justice movement generated headlines.
But it did more than that. It also opened the eyes of some hardened veterans of grassroots struggles for a fairer food system, bringing many of the writers and activists from that movement into direct contact with the brutal living and working conditions faced by Florida's farmworkers for the first time. Here below are some of their reports (and click here to see the photo report from the 3/5/09 visit):
UPDATE (3/23/09): Siena Chrisman, of the food justice organization World Hunger Year (WHY), sent her own reflection on the visit along last week. Here's an excerpt, describing the community meeting observed by the Food Justice delegation: "Meeting facilitation rotates among CIW leadership; the soft-spoken Lucas Benitez ran the meeting we attended more like he was having a casual chat with a few friends than leading a meeting of 100 people just days before a major action against Governor Crist in Tallahassee." read more
- Raj Patel, "Apartheid in America," Stuffed and Starved: "It was an inspirational time, and it is clearly in everyone’s interest that the kind of apartheid that characterises American agriculture (more than other industries) come to an end. The tides of history turned against Apartheid. They will turn against the injustice in the fields." read more
- Francis Moore Lappe, "The Secret -- I Saw, Close-up, the Real Root of Global Economic Collapse," Huffington Post: "We all know that when a big tree is toppled in a storm, its roots get exposed. In today's financial hurricane, big roots are sticking out of Immokalee's sandy soils. There, this week, as part of a delegation sponsored by Just Harvest, suddenly abstract economic "forces" got very real for me -- embodied in human lives, human faces." read more
- Tom Philpott, Immokalee Diary, Part 1, Part 2, Grist.org: "Right across the street from the parking lot stands the CIW's community center, a simple, functionalist building whose very existence quietly counteracts the power represented by the wheezing, grower-owned buses. Honestly, the community center at times felt like liberated space in a war zone -- a place dedicated to improving worker lives in a place seemingly designed to destroy them." read more
- Eric Holt-Gimenez, "The Coalition of Immokalee Workers: Fighting modern day slavery in the industrial food system," Food First: "Upon my return from Immokalee I mentioned my trip to my sister-in-law, who is a rural sociologist from Guatemala. “Immokalee!” she cried, “The campesinos in the Highlands all fear that place!” Sadly, “ground zero” for modern slavery practices in the U.S. is well known—and dreaded—by indigenous people in Mesoamerica. Indeed, for some it is a “gate of no return.” read more
And for something completely different, check out this rapid-fire animation of hundreds of photos from the recent theater and press conference in Tallahassee (by none other than Mr. JJ Tiziou, of course). It's like watching two whole days unfold in two minutes!
March 12, 2009
CIW looks ahead to meeting with Governor Crist...
Photo report from Tallahassee theater, press conference online now!
As reported in this morning's Ft. Myers News-Press, "Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced Wednesday he will talk with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers - a meeting the group has sought for two years."
Here's an extended excerpt from the article, entitled "Immokalee workers to take slavery tales to Crist":
"On the table: slavery and the labor conditions of Southwest Florida's tomato harvesters...
Slavery, coalition members say, is the extreme end of a broken labor system that begins with subpoverty wages. The group has pledges from the world's largest fast-food companies - McDonald's, Burger King, Subway and others - to pay harvesters a penny more per pound for the tomatoes they pick.
The extra money would make a huge difference in workers' lives, 31-year-old picker Rafael Gomez told The News-Press last week. He hadn't found work for eight days. 'If I'd made a few more dollars, I'd have been able to have some defense against hunger,' Gomez said." read more
Thanks go out to all those who emailed, faxed, and joined us in Tallahassee and so helped make this meeting possible!
Tallahassee photo report: The opportunity to share their views on farm labor conditions with Governor Crist has CIW members excited and planning eagerly for the upcoming meeting. To have secured the chance to meet with the governor is a step forward in and of itself, but the true extent of progress will measured by what happens after the meeting. In the words of the photo report from the visit to Tallahassee:
"With the March 25th meeting, a civil rights landmark will have been met -- farmworkers will, for the first time, have won the right to sit at the same table as the governor. And that is because workers from Immokalee have fought so hard and so long for their human rights that their humanity can no longer be denied or ignored.
The labor rights landmark, however, still lies ahead. Our arrival there depends upon the outcome of the meeting and the commitments made there. We are optimistic, however, that Governor Crist's break with tradition on the decision to grant our meeting is a harbinger of more change to come. Lord knows it's long overdue." read more
March 9, 2009
On the right is a moment of the at the action from the CIW's theater and press conference on the steps of the old Capitol in Tallahassee
And click on the links below for a complete round-up of the media coverage:
- "We cannot continue to ignore farmworkers," Tallahassee Democrat
- "Governor, meet with the Coalition," Ft. Myers News-Press editorial
- "Charlie Crist snubs slavery foes," CBS News
- "200 Immokalee farmworkers protest at Capitol, ask governor to support end to slavery," Naples Daily News
- Picture gallery from theater, press conference, Tallahasee Democrat
- "Yes, those are slaves on the steps of the Florida Capitol today," Miami New Times
- "Immokalee farmworkers ask Crist for help," Ft. Myers News-Press
- "Governor remains silent on plague of slavery," Ft. Myers News-Press
- "Immokalee farm workers hold anti-slavery rally," Miami Herald
- "Your Tomatoes Were Picked by Slaves," Slate
- "Farmworkers headed to Tallahassee again," Naples Daily News
- Letter to Governor Crist, Melinda Hemmelgarn, member of Food Justice delegation to Immokalee
Food justice visit a wrap!
This is a system that builds walls, "separating rich from poor, trying to forget that we live in one world," author and activist Raj Patel, speaking at the CIW press conference following the delegation visit to Immokalee.
See all the details from this remarkable gathering of writers, sustainable food leaders, family farmers, community organizers and new media activists:
- Click here to see the CIW's exclusive photo report
- Click here to see a rapid-fire photo animation from the day-long event
- Scroll down for all the press reports
Press reports from Food Justice delegation: Check out the great video (below) from the Naples Daily News coverage of the visit, more videos from NBC and Fox news, the NPR coverage, stories from the Daily News and Ft. Myers News-Press, and another excellent piece from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
February 8, 2009
Sustainable food movement calls out Crist on slavery: Slow Food USA, author Raj Patel ("Stuffed and Starved"), Organic Consumers Association and more demand Crist take a stand against forced labor!
Here's a list of just some of the sustainable food organizations that have taken up the petition calling for action from Governor Charlie Crist on slavery:
- Slow Food USA
- Raj Patel
- Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy
- Organic Consumers Association
- Pesticide Action Network North America
- California Food and Justice Coalition
- Just Food (NY)
- The Oakland Institute
- Florida Organic Growers
At last September's Slow Food Nation conference, "Fast Food Nation" author Eric Schlosser asked, "Does it matter whether an heirloom tomato is local and organic if it was harvested with slave labor?" Clearly, the answer from the sustainble food movement is a resounding "No"!
Stay tuned for more to come in the weeks ahead, as the Campaign for Fair Food ramps up for a trip to Tallahassee and a visit to the governor! In the meantime, if you haven't done so already...
February 1, 2009
Momentum is building: Religious allies join call on Crist for leadership in fight against slavery!...
From Presbyterian to Jewish, Methodist to Catholic, congregations from across Florida and around the country are collecting signatures on a new letter calling on Gov. Crist to "take a leadership role in ensuring that Florida’s farmworkers can live and work freely and with dignity."
If you'd like to sign, or to help circulate the letter in your community, you can visit the Florida Council of Churches website today to see the letter and how you can get involved!
You can also find the letter at the Interfaith Action website.
Here's an excerpt:
"Our religious traditions share a commitment to the dignity and freedom of every human person, and we believe you do as well. The Ten Commandments teach us that faithfulness to God involves fairness to all peoples in our society, and that we are to be as concerned for the wellbeing of our neighbors as we are for our own selves and property. The continued existence of slavery in our day attacks the very soul of our society, calling every one of us to awareness and action."
The letter goes on to call on Gov. Crist to work with the CIW to eradicate slavery and abuses in Florida's fields and to call on the Florida tomato industry to participate in the CIW’s agreements with fast-food and supermarket companies.January 28, 2009
Blogosphere echoes CIW demand for action on slavery!
From the Huffington Post to Amnesty International USA and the Nation, blogs have picked up the CIW petition demanding that Florida Governor Charlie Crist take a stand on slavery.
Here's an excerpt from the Huffington Post piece:
"Governor Crist, even a single case of slavery in the twenty-first century is too many... The Governor should, rather than deny that slavery exists in Florida, join the many other public officials who have devoted their energy and talents to ending it, by meeting with those officials and the Coalition, and by pledging the power of his office to address the plague of modern-day slavery in Florida's fields." read more
Click on the following links to check out the Amnesty USA post, entitled "Historic presidential race, but slavery persists in US," the Nation piece, entitled "," and a post from the Gone City blogger, who the penned his own letter to Crist, "An open letter to Florida Governor Charlie Crist".
Then take action yourself if you haven't done so yet and tell Gov. Crist to take a stand against slavery!January 6, 2009
2008 - FIVE STORIES THAT DEFINED A MOMENTOUS YEAR IN CAMPAIGN FOR FAIR FOOD!...
We've sifted through the past twelve months and have identified what we consider the top five stories from a remarkably eventful year.
Here's a look back at the highlights of a year that's going to be one hard act to follow! And then get back up and get ready to do it all again -- 2009 is waiting...
January 1, 2009
New Year message from a CIW member...
The headline says it all, so without further ado, here is a message from a CIW member to the readers of our website following a remarkably tumultous year in the Campaign for Fair Food (the excerpt below is in Spanish, click on the link to see the complete text and its translation):
Carta de Año Nuevo:
En esta temporada del Año Nuevo en la que el país celebra con familia y amigos y todos expresan sus deseos para el futuro, los trabajadores de Immokalee queremos tomar esta oportunidad para compartir los nuestros también..." Click here to see the rest of the letter and its translationDecember 29, 2008
Between Governor Crist's continued silence on farmworker slavery and the holidays, a number of great stories on the Campaign for Fair Food slipped through the cracks. Here's a round-up of some of the stories we missed over a busy past couple of weeks:
- "Shameful exploitation," Bill Maxwell, St. Petersburg Times (12/14/08):
"... Written in 1938, when U.S. farmworkers were mostly black and racism was more blatant, the Fair Labor Standards Act excluded field hands. Our current labor laws, with remnants of our old racism, still leave farm workers unprotected. They do not have the right to bargain collectively, they have no legal guarantee of overtime pay and they can be fired at the whim of the boss...." read more
- "This has incredible importance for our movement," Democracy Now
- "Their energy brings change to Tampa Bay area," St. Petersburg Times (12/21/08)
- "Agriculture spokesman thinks a little bit of slavery isn't a big deal," Miami New Times (12/19/08):
"... McElroy says he was misrepresented, but the guy is a professional spokesman. You should know the power of your words, it's what you get paid for..." read more
- "Justice in the tomato fields," AFL-CIO blog (12/8/08)
December 24, 2008
'Twas the Night before Christmas...
12/24/08: ... And not even in this season of good will could Governor Crist find it in his heart to break his silence on the scourge of slavery in his state.
His stubborn silence leaves us speechless...
And so we leave you with this excellent review of all the recent news from Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, "In the trenches and fighting slavery" (12/12//08). Happy holidays.December 20, 2008
Worker to Judge: "Bosses should not beat up the people who work with them"...
In the midst of a growing uproar over Tallahassee's controversial statements on slavery in Florida, Friday's sentencing in the Navarrete case (pictured here, from the left, are farm bosses Geovanni and Cesar Navarrete) provided a horrifying reminder of the raw brutality of forced labor and the enduring shame of an agricultural industry seemingly addicted to exploitation...
Four Immokalee family members were sentenced yesterday for "enslaving and brutalizing migrant workers" ("Family sentenced for slavery," Ft. Myers News-Press, 12/20/08). The case cast a terrifying new light on the recent debate over the significance of farm labor slavery in Florida, a debate that was sparked when the spokesperson for Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services -- speaking on behalf of Governor Charlie Crist -- appeared to downplay the importance of seven major slavery prosecutions out of Florida's fields in the past decade. The following is an extended excerpt from the News-Press report:
"One of the prosecutors, Susan French, called Cesar Navarrete the family’s 'young patriarch.' Geovanni Navarrete was 'the enforcer, the beater.'
'This defendant is the one who chained the worker’s feet to the pole,' French said of Geovanni, 'the one who beat them, slapped them … multiple victims, multiple acts of violence, multiple injuries to the victims.'
One of the victims, Mariano Lucas Diego, spoke of what he’d endured: beatings and nighttime imprisonment in a truck, where the family’s captives would have to urinate and defecate in the corners.
Diego described pounding on the truck until he and another victim made a hole through which they squeezed out, then found a ladder so the others could escape.
Diego spoke of several beatings.
'Bosses should not beat up the people who work with them,' he told Judge John E. Steele.
As Diego spoke, Geovanni Navarrete watched, shaking his head, a slight smile curling his upper lip." Read the rest of the article here
In an important new twist, the News-Press article also identified the farms that employed the Navarrete crew:
"The Navarretes took their crews to work on farms owned by some of the state’s major tomato producers: Immokalee-based Six L’s and Pacific Tomato Growers in Palmetto. Both tomato growers are part of the Socially Accountable Farm Employers (SAFE) program, designed to prevent labor abuses."
The News-Press ran a powerful editorial accompanying the report on the sentencing ("Little bit of slavery not acceptable," 12/20/08) that connected the violent Navarrete operation to the recent comments by Terence McElroy of the Department of Agriculture. The editorial recalled McElroy's words:
"Of course, I say any instance is too many, and any legitimate grower certainly does not engage in that activity (slavery), but you're talking about maybe a case a year."
Then responded with the following:
"To tolerate or to excuse even one instance of slavery in our community is to turn a blind eye to a scourge that Americans rejected nearly 150 years ago..."
The editorial went on to unequivocally condemn Governor Crist's continuing silence on the human rights crisis in Florida's fields, and concluded with a call to action:
"... Crist has avoided commenting on this issue so far, and he has missed an opportunity to show leadership.
He should accept the invitation to go to Immokalee, to check out the fields, to meet with workers and growers, and to publicly condemn slavery in our state."
There is much, much more to come in this developing story. Stay tuned...December 19, 2008
VERY LATEST: Incredibly, McElroy does it again...
Given an opportunity to explain his earlier, explosive comments downplaying the significance of modern-day slavery in Florida, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokesperson Terence McElroy chose to dig himself -- and Governor Crist, whom he represents -- an even deeper hole. Here's what he wrote in an email to a reporter from the Ft. Myers News-Press when asked for his response to the groundswell of criticism of his earlier comments:
"... “To a question (about) whether this was a common or accepted practice, I said that it certainly was not — and, in fact, is quite a rarity when a case pops up." (emphasis added)
You can see the latest article, "Ag spokesperson McElroy's statements spur buzz," by clicking here.
"quite a rarity... " Really? We invite Mr. McElroy to join us in a short thought experiment.
Imagine that, ten years ago, a violent slavery ring is uncovered within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Hundreds of state workers are discovered being systematically beaten, sexually assaulted, and forced to work at the point of a gun for no pay by a supervisor employed by the department. When the ringleaders are prosecuted and sentenced to 15 years in prison, what would you say, Mr. McElroy, to the press? How would you characterize the suffering of the victims?
The following year, another case is discovered in your department. And the following year another case is discovered. And the following year another case is discovered. And the following year another case is discovered. And the following year another case is discovered.
In the course of 10 years, a total of well over 1,000 workers in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have been liberated from bosses who regularly beat them, forced them to work, and stole their pay. More than a dozen bosses are behind bars. And by any honest estimate, the cases and workers discovered in servitude represent only the tip of the iceberg.
When yet another case is discovered in your department, would you stand before the press and say that this seventh case of slavery is "quite a rarity"?
It's hard to believe -- no, impossible to believe -- that you would.
Given that very safe assumption, what we would like to know is: What, in your mind, is the difference between the human rights of the workers in your department and the rights of the workers who harvest our crops in the fields? Are the workers in the fields somehow less human? We'll leave that question open for reflection.
And one final thing: The slavery cases you refer to have in fact taken place on the farms of some of this state's most "legitimate growers," to use your words, including the former head of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. Look it up.December 18, 2008
What they're saying about the McElroy statement:
Open letter to Governor Charlie Crist, signed by more than 70 human rights, religious, student, labor, and community organizations and leaders from across Florida and across the nation: "When those who have the responsibility to ensure freedom from slavery, one of the grossest violations of human rights, instead tolerate its existence, people of conscience must speak out..." Read the letter in its entirety, and see the signatories -- including authors Frances Moore Lappe and Eric Schlosser, and organizations from the Florida AFL-CIO to the national Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) -- by clicking here
President Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: "... Slavery persists when government leaders fail to take the necessary action to prevent it. Taking preventive action is a human rights obligation of local, state and national governments... I support the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and others in urging Governor Crist to take immediate steps to combat modern-day slavery in Florida agriculture." See President Robinson's full statement here
Larry Cox, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA: "There should be no mixed messages about slavery... This incident should serve as a wake-up call: if Florida is serious about eradicating slavery, its officials must be unequivocal in affirming that not a single instance of it will be tolerated..." See Mr. Cox's statement in its entirety here
Lynn Delaney, Executive Director, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights: "The statement reflects a disturbing disregard for the rights of victims of such abusive and inhumane practices. That federal agents are still finding slavery- rings to prosecute in Florida, over one hundred forty years since the 13th Amendment banned the practice, represents a failure to protect these victims’ most fundamental liberties for both the State of Florida and its agricultural industry." See Ms. Delaney's statement in its entirety here
Florida ACLU: "Instances of worker abuse that rise to the level of human slavery are shockingly prevalent in Florida... It should be no surprise that Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, claims that reports of slavery in Florida tomato fields are 'false and defamatory' and says 'unequivocally' that 'growers abhor and condemn slavery' -- despite the recent case in which there was evidence documenting that slave crew leaders' pay 'came from growers'... To diminish the problem of slavery hinders the hope for its end, in Florida and elsewhere. Thoughtful and decisive action by our public officials is needed to protect the thousands who are locked-up, hidden away, unremunerated, and exploited by a system that disregards the most basic of human rights..." See the full letter to Agricultural Commissioner Bronson here
The Rev. Noelle Damico, National Coordinator of the PC(USA) Campaign for Fair Food: "The implication that some modern-day slavery is tolerable is not only morally offensive it actually encourages those who are currently engaging in these horrific practices to continue. It further exhibits a gross disregard for the extreme suffering and incredible courage of farmworkers who labor in and struggle against these brutal circumstances..." See Rev. Damico's complete statement here
Coalition of Immokalee Workers: "... It is incumbent on Governor Crist to clarify -- now -- whether he shares Mr. McElroy's perspective that one case of modern-day slavery a year represents a manageable level of exploitation. We are sure that his answer will be of particular interest to those farm bosses currently holding workers against their will -- those bosses whose operations are active case files on law enforcement authorities' desks today.
But words alone are no longer enough. Any condemnation of the exploitation of our state's farmworkers from Tallahassee, if it is to be anything more than political damage control, must be coupled with action. Governor Crist can begin by demanding that the Florida Tomato Growers' Exchange end its efforts to nullify the agreements reached between the CIW and the leading fast-food buyers of Florida tomatoes to improve farmworker wages and working conditions." Read the CIW statement in its entirety by clicking here
December 13, 2008
Sustainable food blog Grist.org asks CIW for "elevator pitch" to President-elect Obama on farmworker justice!...
CIW joins Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, Anna Lappé, and more leaders of sustainable food and agriculture in "advising" the new president on how to address the inequities of our food industry. Here's an excerpt from our letter:
" ...Your victory has allowed us to dream again. Our dream is for a US food industry founded on respect for human rights, not exploitation of human beings..."
Read the rest of the CIW's Letter to Obama here!
December 12, 2008
Northeast Tour daily updates wrap-up with report from NYC!...
Check out all the reports from the road as a crew of workers from Immokalee and their allies traveled through the Northeast talking about the road ahead in the Campaign for Fair Food.
Click here to see the final update from the Northeast Tour crew as they take on New York City! Here above is an image from a particularly spirited rally celebrating the recent agreement with Subway with some longtime student allies from the West Village -- Click here to find out more about this rally, and for a complete wrap-up from the final stop of the exciting final tour of 2008!
Also, be sure to check out this MUST-READ article from the venerable Institute for Southern Studies, "Bearing the fruits of their labor," by Desiree Evans (12/5/08). Here's an excerpt:
"Despite the harsh conditions of their labor, over the past few years a small group of migrant workers from southwest Florida have been making waves across the country in their battle for worker justice. They have waged one of the most successful labor campaigns in a generation...
"... 'We just want to be recognized as human beings, we want to be recognized as people who work hard and have the same rights as anyone else," farm worker Norberto Jimenez told In These Times in 2007. "It shouldn't matter if we're from another country or that we're just tomato pickers. We are human beings and we should be treated with dignity.'" Read the article in its entirety here
December 4, 2008
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) weighs in on Subway agreement!...
The Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), issued a statement praising the CIW and Subway for the recent agreement and challenging the remainder of the retail food industry to now follow suit. Here's an excerpt:
"As the largest purchaser of tomatoes in the fast-food industry, Subway's decision sends an unmistakable message to the rest of the retail food industry and to Florida growers: The industry can and must ensure human rights for farmworkers...
... Will the rest of the restaurant and grocery industry now step forward to become part of this momentous advance for human rights? The answer is not only up to the companies but to those of us who are conscious consumers as well." Read the letter in its entirety here
Also, news of the Subway agreement traveled far and wide, and was covered by Mexico's leading daily, La Jornada. Check it out here: "Vence organizacion de jornaleros migrantes a la cadena Subway".
Oh, and, lest we give the impression that we've forgotten about the rest of the fast-food industry with the new focus on the supermarkets, here's a short video from October that's worth a second look about some unfinished business in Denver. Enjoy...
November 28, 2008
CIW throws Thanksgiving day bash in Immokalee!...
The CIW's Radio Conciencia (right) went mobile to headline the community gathering, taking advantage of the day off in the fields to have a little fun.
New editorial reminds us: "Thanksgiving is a holiday built around food... but rarely do we honor the hands that feed us."
A well-timed op/ed -- published as consumers across the country begin gearing-up for Thanksgiving -- takes a hard look at conditions in the fields where the fruits and vegetables for our holiday feasts are grown and picked. After touching on the exploitation of workers in Immokalee, the editorial concludes:
"... Immokalee is an extreme example, but it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth when you realize the high costs that some people are paying so that we can have cheap food. Most of us do not take the time to wonder why our food costs so little. Instead, we notice how expensive organic or locally grown produce is in comparison.
For agriculture to be sustainable, it must provide a living for those who work our land. Let's honor the hands that feed us by restoring the dignity of fair wages to farmers and farmworkers."
Read the editorial in its entirety here.2008 "CHIPOCRISY TOUR" A HUGE SUCCESS!...
Click on the video above for the youtube version, or click here for a cleaner, quicktime streaming video
Check out the new video above with exclusive footage from the recently completed tour, and click on the following links for:
- All the daily updates from the road
- The CIW response to Chipotle's 11th hour announcement on the campaign
- And a hard-hitting human rights white paper from the Alliance for Fair Food entitled "Challenging the Chipocrisy"!
November 10, 2008
CAMPAIGN FOR FAIR FOOD NEWS ROUND-UP!...
Students in Carbondale, IL, make front page news in the school paper with a Halloween day
protest outside a local Subway restaurant
Campaign for Fair Food allies keep their eyes on the prize!... Not everything came to a halt over the past couple of weeks as we picked our new president (though it is sure enough hard to think of anything else when we are living days of history that will be told and retold for generations to come...).
Like the students in Carbondale, IL, shown keeping the heat on Subway with a Halloween day protest above, allies across the country did their part to let Subway and Chipotle know that there will be no peace until justice is done in the fields of Florida where their tomatoes are picked.
Endorsements: Five new endorsements came in, including one in Subway's very own backyard -- the Yale Committee on Racial Equality! Joining the students from New Haven, CT, were the United Workers Association (UWA, check out their incredible organizing by clicking here) from Baltimore, MD, the Unitarian Universalist Church of St. Petersburg, FL, the Interfaith Food & Farms Partnership, of Portland, OR, and the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.
Netroots: The blogosphere added yet another voice to the growing chorus for Fair Food, with the Unitarian Universalists national office blog, dubbed "Inspired Faith, Effective Action", where they encouraged their members to "Send a postcard to Subway and Chipotle on behalf of Florida farmworkers". Go to the post now to see how you can join in the action!
Media: Even the international media got in on the act this past week, with a powerful new editorial from the Netherlands entitled, "US: Fair Prices for Tomato Pickers" (11/3/08). Here's the conclusion to a well-written reflection on the growing call for "sustainable" food:
"No one knows what the future holds, but as our economic system hovers over the proverbial "rock bottom," it seems like a good time to revisit our policies, both national and personal, when it comes to the money we spend. What is the value of a tomato, and why? What (from fertilizers and pesticides to labor to transport) went into it, and does its price reflect those inputs? Or has a market driven by speculation and subsidies installed a false cap on that price, creating a decidedly unsustainable system that benefits CEOs over citizens, puts the squeeze on smaller businesses and leaves the laborers to pick up the slack?" read more here
October 22, 2008We interrupt our Chipocrisy Tour coverage to bring you this breaking news: CIW makes the NY Times Sunday Magazine's special food issue!...
Gerardo Reyes, CIW: "You cannot call sustainable food sustainable
when it’s not fair.’’
Update 1: CIW friend and ally Tom Philpott, who helps run the outstanding environmental news and commentary blog grist.org as well as a model small-scale farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, was also featured in the NY Times "Food Fighters" issue, and had some nice things to say on grist.org about our mutual sighting in the Sunday Magazine's hallowed pages!
Update 2: Speaking of sustainable food blogs, check out this post at the excellent blog The Green Fork, complete with a great video interview of the CIW's Lucas Benitez at the recent Slow Foods conference. The post actually made it onto the the Huffington Post's Green Page!
We now return you to your regular broadcasting...October 20, 2008
CIW goes coast to coast to speak on sustainable food: CIW leaders speak at Bioneers Conference in California, World Hunger Year gathering in New York City, with Naomi Klein, Alice Waters, Raj Patel, and others!...
Gerardo Reyes (right) spoke this past weekend at the World Hunger Year (WHY) "Step up to the Plate: Ending the Food Crisis" event in NYC. You can see a video of his presentation by clicking here.
You can also read more about the WHY event by clicking here.
Meanwhile, Lucas Benitez of the CIW spoke at the Bioneers Conference in San Rafael, CA, described as a "forum where you can see tomorrow today: a future environment of hope." Come back soon for video from that event.
While we're at it, we'll throw in a couple of good stories from the recently completed "2008 Chipocrisy Tour". Here's one from the Tour stop in Asheville, North Carolina, entitled, "Farmworkers bring tales of modern-day slavery to Asheville."
And here's a good story from the Chipotle protest in Gainesville, FL, entitled "Protestors rally for fair worker wages at Chipotle." Both stories are worth a read.September 30, 2008
2008 "Chipocrisy Tour" ready to roll!... CIW members and allies prepare to head west, call on Chipotle to live out the true meaning of its marketing slogan, "Food with Integrity"!
In the grand tradition of CIW "mini-tours" since 2001 (be sure to scroll to the end of this update for more on that tradition), the CIW is announcing the 2008 "Chipocrisy Tour," set to begin at the end of this month in Austin, Texas, and wrap up at Chipotle Mexican Grill's corporate headquarters in Denver, Colorado in early October.
The 2008 Tour will make its way through some of the most active and committed Fair Food communities in the country today. Beginning in Austin, the Tour crew will join with members of Fair Food Austin to celebrate the Whole Foods agreement with the community that helped make that ground-breaking accord possible. The Tour will then wind its way north through towns like Lawrence, KS, home of the incomparable Lawrence Fair Food, to Denver, where the fine folks of Denver Fair Food will lead the way. From Denver, the Tour heads to St. Louis, MO, Louisville, KY, and Ashville, NC, where fast-food giant Subway, too, will get a little of the Crew's love with local actions and community meetings. Finally, the crew will head home again to Immokalee, wrapping up nearly two weeks of of intensive education and action around the true meaning of the term "sustainable agriculture."
Chipotle has staked its claim as the sustainable agriculture leader in the fast-food industry. Its marketing slogan -- "Food with Integrity" -- is unambiguous.
Yet the company's definition of "sustainable" is apparently unconcerned with the egregious exploitation of farm labor in Florida's tomato fields. And you don't have to take our word for it. Here's the company's vision of sustainable agriculture as defined by none other than Chipotle's founder and CEO, Steve Ells:
“We decided long ago that we didn't want Chipotle's success to be tied to the exploitation of animals, farmers, or the environment.”
Should farmworkers be included in that definition? We think so, and in the language of this election season, that's a debate we're happy to have. So let the debate begin next week, with the 2008 Chipocrisy Tour, and may the best vision of sustainable agriculture win!
Check back soon for more tour details and for all the updates from the road starting next week.
In the meantime, for a sense of the history of CIW mini-tours and of what awaits our allies along the path of this coming tour, you can click on the following links:
- The tour that started it all (right), the 2001 Cross-country Mini-Tour
- The '02 Northeast Tour (for a special treat, check out the videos at the top of each daily update)
- The '06 Midwest Tour
- The '06 Denver Tour
- The '07 Florida Tour
September 28, 2008
100+ students and youth hold fourth annual "Encuentro" in Immokalee; launch whirlwind of action for Fair Food!...
Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA) Days of Action set!
More than one hundred students and young people representing more than 20 states, 30 campuses and 40 organizations converged for an unforgettable and spirited weekend of consciousness-building and strategizing last weekend in Immokalee. Participants spent four days strengthening the SFA network by building relationships, connecting with members of the CIW, and making plans for several exciting actions and events for the months ahead in the Campaign for Fair Food.
CIW speaks at Slow Food Nation 2008 gathering in San Francisco; Chipotle put on notice...
A delegation from the CIW (including Lucas Benitez and Melody Gonzalez, of the Student/Farmworker Alliance, shown speaking here as part of the the SFN "soap box" speakers series) traveled to San Francisco over Labor Day weekend to participate in a massive gathering of "Slow Food" activists from across the country and across the globe.
For all the latest news from the Campaign for Fair Food, click on the following links:
- "The ugly truth is that most Americans rarely think about the inhumanity of the process responsible for the fresh, inexpensive produce on their tables. Until consumers become sensitive to that process and to the plight of the laborers, the abuse and exploitation, even slavery, will continue..." Click here to read the rest of this hard-hitting op/ed by Bill Maxwell of the St. Petersburg Times -- "Farmworkers exploited, even enslaved, in Florida" (9/7/08).
- "While protection of the environment, family farmers, and farm animals is laudable, the omission of humane treatment for farmworkers within the company's supply chain is appalling..." The Adrian Dominican Sisters, a religious order with a long track record of socially responsible investment, recently sent Chipotle, the reluctant sustainable food giant, a pointed letter -- read it here:
- As the season approaches here in Florida, here's a link to an excellent photo gallery of life and work in Immokalee, by Chris Maluszynski, brought to you by the Moment Agency. The photo at the top of this update gives you a taste of the power of this gallery -- don't miss it!
September 9, 2008
Whole Foods, CIW agree to "work in partnership to help improve wages and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers"!...
Gerardo Reyes of the CIW: “With this agreement, the Campaign for Fair Food has again broken new ground. This is not only our first agreement in the supermarket industry but, in working with Whole Foods Market, we have the opportunity to really raise the bar to establish and ensure modern day labor standards and conditions in Florida.”
Read the Ft. Myers News-Press article here: "Tomato pickers sign up new ally" (9/10/08)
Here's the press release in its entirety:
Whole Foods Market Signs Agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to Support “Penny-per-Pound” Tomato Program in Florida
Company Also Exploring Program to Help Guarantee Ethical Sourcing and Production in the U.S.
AUSTIN, TX (September 9, 2008) – Whole Foods Market, the world’s leading natural and organic foods supermarket and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the Florida-based farm worker organization spearheading the growing Campaign for Fair Food, announced today that the two will work in partnership to help improve wages and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers.
According to an agreement signed this week, Whole Foods Market will support the CIW’s “penny-per-pound” approach for tomatoes purchased from Florida, with the goal of passing these additional funds on to the harvesters.
“With this agreement, the Campaign for Fair Food has again broken new ground,” said Gerardo Reyes of the CIW. “This is not only our first agreement in the supermarket industry but, in working with Whole Foods Market, we have the opportunity to really raise the bar to establish and ensure modern day labor standards and conditions in Florida.”
“We commend the CIW for their advocacy on behalf of these workers,” said Karen Christensen, Global Produce Coordinator for Whole Foods Market. “After carefully evaluating the situation in Florida, we felt that an agreement of this nature was in line with our core values and was in the best interest of the workers.”
Additionally, Whole Foods Market is exploring the creation of a domestic purchasing program to help guarantee transparent, ethical and responsible sourcing and production, using the company’s existing Whole Trade Guarantee program as a model. Whole Trade Guarantee, a third-party verified program, ensures that producers and laborers in developing countries get an equitable price for their goods in a safe and healthy working environment. The goal is to purchase Florida tomatoes from growers that will implement a similar program. “We are especially excited about working with the CIW to develop this domestic ‘Whole Trade-type’ program,” said Christensen.
Guilty! On eve of trial, farm bosses plead guilty to enslaving Immokalee workers in tomato harvest...
UPDATE #2: Read the Ft. Myers News-Press editorial on the slavery conviction, "Purge U.S. of shame of slavery"! Here's an excerpt:
"The successful prosecution of five Immokalee residents on slavery charges is satisfying, but the brutal details of their treatment of farm workers show how warped the agricultural labor system is...
This is among six slavery cases the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has helped prosecute, freeing more than 1,000 people. Coalition member Gerardo Reyes asked Tuesday, "How many more workers have to be held against their will before the food industry steps up to the plate and demands that this never - ever - occur again in the produce that ends up on America's tables?"
Also, click here to read the US Department of Justice press release announcing the convictions.
UPDATE #1: US Sen. Bernie Sanders issues a statement on the convictions! Here's an excerpt:
"... I applaud U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy and his staff for successfully prosecuting this case. I also want to congratulate the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) for their on-going efforts to protect some of the most exploited workers in our country...
... As a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee I intend to introduce legislation in the very near future which will end a loophole in current law which enables growers to avoid taking responsibility for what happens on their fields when workers are being enslaved.”
September 3, 2008: Yesterday, at federal court in Ft. Myers, FL, farm bosses from Immokalee pleaded guilty to "numerous charges of enslaving Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants, brutalizing them and forcing them to work in farm fields." ("Five to plead guilty on charges of enslaving immigrant laborers," Ft. Myers News Press, 9/2/08).
According to the News-Press report:
"The 17-count indictment in the case -- one of the largest slavery prosecutions Southwest Florida has ever seen -- was released in January. It alleges that for two years, Cesar Navarrete and Geovanni Navarrete beat agricultural laborers, chained them up, locked them in boxes and trucks on the family property while keeping them in ever-increasing debt.
Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy has called it "slavery, plain and simple."
Many will remember this latest slavery case -- one of the most extreme stories of exploitation to emerge from fields renowned for their brutality -- as the prosecution that began when workers escaped from a locked u-haul truck and made their way to an Immokalee police cruiser to denounce their employers... on the same day that a delegation comprised of representatives from the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, an industry-friendly "third-party" monitoring group by the name of Intertek, and Burger King were visiting Immokalee to declare Florida's fields free of slavery.
Here's an excerpt from our own coverage of that story when it broke:
"November 20th was a momentous day in Immokalee.
On November 20th, according to court documents filed last week, three tomato pickers made their way to the Collier County Sheriff’s office after having escaped two days earlier through the ventilation hatch of a box truck where they had been held against their will by their employer. The three men told police of an Immokalee-based tomato harvesting slavery ring in which workers “were beaten and forced to work exclusively for the Navarrete family,” according to an article entitled, “Family accused of enslaving workers at Immokalee camp” in the Naples Daily News (12/7/07).
On that same day, November 20th, Andre Raghu, global managing director with the supply chain monitoring group “Intertek,” told the readers of the Miami Herald that his company’s audits of Florida tomato operations “have found no slave labor.” Mr. Raghu was quoted in the Herald as part of a high-profile press junket organized by Burger King and their new partners in public relations, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE), to counter CIW claims of a human rights crisis in Florida’s tomato fields.
And so, on November 20th, while well-paid executives assured the world that all is well in the Florida’s fields, workers in Immokalee were recounting to Sheriff’s deputies how they had to break out of a locked U-Haul truck to escape from their employers."
The explosion of this case on the scene then helped put the lie to that effort to whitewash farm labor abuse. Its conclusion in guilty pleas yesterday should likewise leave the leaders of the Florida tomato industry with no more room for denial of the urgent need for reform.
We'll close with the words of the CIW's Gerardo Reyes, from a statement issued to the News-Press about the convictions:
"The facts that have been reported in this case are beyond outrageous -- workers being beaten, tied to posts, and chained and locked into trucks to prevent them from leaving their boss. How many more workers have to be held against their will before the food industry steps up to the plate and demands that this never -- ever -- occur again in the produce that ends up on America's tables?"
"What's most frustrating is that there is a solution. As US Senator Bernie Sanders said when he visited Immokale, 'Slavery is the extreme. The norm is a disaster.' If we can improve the norm -- guarantee fair wages and humane conditions for all Florida farmworkers -- then we can eliminate the extreme. And there are now several retail food industry leaders who have agreed to do their part to promote social responsibility in Florida agriculture. Yet the leaders of Florida's tomato industry -- who are holding their annual meeting this week at the Ritz Carlton in Naples -- continue to stand in the way of progress. The FTGE needs to start working with Yum Brands, McDonald's, Burger King, and the other major tomato buyers who want to put an end to exploitation in Florida's fields."
Check back in the days ahead for much more breaking news as the season approaches and the Campaign for Fair Food shifts into high gear.August 25, 2008RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights joins with Anti-Slavery International in joint statement remembering the slave trade and its abolition, demanding an end to modern-day slavery in Florida's fields!...
Joint statement urges "FloridaTomato Growers Exchange to stop opposing human rights agreements" between CIW and fast-food industry leaders;
The following is the text of a joint press release issued Friday, August 22, by the the RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights and London-based Anti-Slavery International:
For Immediate Release:
RFK Center and Anti-Slavery International Celebrate International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition
Advocates Urge Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to Stop Opposing Human Rights Agreements between Farmworkers and Burger King, McDonald's, and YUM! Brands' to Fight Modern Day Slavery
(Washington, DC) The International Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade & its Abolition on August 23rd is a day to reflect on the tragedy of the transatlantic slave trade and the reality of modern day slavery. Anti-Slavery International and The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights celebrate the success of the human rights defenders who brought down the transatlantic slave trade and the efforts of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and their supporters in the Campaign for Fair Food along with socially responsible corporations to address modern day slavery.
They are also calling upon the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) to take a stand against forced labor in Florida's fields by ending their obstructive practices against agreements made between farmworkers and major produce buyers to support human rights in their supply chains. The FTGE is a cooperative of Florida tomato growers which account for the overwhelming majority of Florida's tomato production. The CIW has reached deals with Taco Bell owner Yum! Brands, Inc., McDonald's, and Burger King, in March 2005, April 2007 and May 2008, respectively, whereby those corporations agreed to pay tomato pickers 1 penny more per pound of tomatoes picked and to work with farmworkers on systems to ensure slavery does not occur on the farms of their suppliers. The FTGE has taken steps in recent months to stymie the implementation of these initiatives.
"Over two hundred years after the U.S. Congress banned the slave trade, farmworkers in Florida's fields still bear the pain and indignity of modern day slavery and human rights abuses to pick the tomatoes which top the salads and sandwiches Americans eat everyday," said Aidan McQuade, Director of Anti-Slavery International. "The Florida Tomato Grower's Exchange has the opportunity to partner with its customers to implement these human rights based agreements, but it is refusing to do so."
In the past decade, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has conducted dozens of investigations into slavery in the U.S. agricultural industry, resulting in eight prosecutions involving over one thousand workers in Florida, which DOJ officials have called "ground-zero for modern day slavery." These include workers who were locked in trailers, tied up and chained, drugged, and threatened with physical harm to their families if they attempted to leave. Criminal prosecutions for slavery occur only in the most extreme cases while many workers are exploited in subtler ways that go unpunished. These workers, whose rights to organize and collectively bargain are not protected by federal law, and whose wages are pushed below poverty level by the downward pressure on prices exerted by the volume purchasing power of major purchasing companies, have become victims of slavery and other gross human rights abuses.
"The FTGE members are standing in the way of workers realizing their human rights and the express will of consumers and socially responsible corporations working to promote fair food," said Monika Kalra Varma, Director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights. "Today, as the world celebrates the end of the gross abuses of the slave trade, we are calling upon the FTGE to end their obstructive practices, support workers' rights and join us in standing against modern day slavery."
The statement is the latest expression of outrage over the FTGE's obstructionist tactics in the face of a growing call for fair wages and humane working conditions in Florida's fields. Unfortunately, it will come as little surprise to anyone who has been following this campaign over the years if this appeal by two leading human rights organizations falls on deaf ears inside the offices of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. Not even a Senate hearing into slavery and sweatshop conditions in Florida's fields managed to move the FTGE off its unconscionable opposition to the CIW's agreements with fast-food industry leaders.
Florida's most conservative growers take comfort in the fact that they don't sell their tomatoes to the public and believe, therefore, that they can thumb their noses at their critics as long as their clients -- this country's multibillion-dollar retail food industry leaders like Subway and WalMart -- are happy.
But retail food industry leaders do sell to the public, and do have to answer to the growing public outcry over the failure of the food industry to address the longstanding exploitation of this country's farmworkers.
Even if the FTGE isn't paying attention, the public is. With the Slow Food Nation gathering set to start next week in San Francisco -- where thousands of this country's most dedicated food activists will come together to learn, among other things, about the reality of labor exploitation in this country's fields -- now is the time for retail food industry leaders to step up and take a stand against slavery and sweatshop conditions where their tomatoes are picked.August 13, 2008
SUSTAINABLE FOOD MOVEMENT EMBRACES CAMPAIGN FOR FAIR FOOD!... Food justice pioneer Frances Moore Lappe and many more endorse the Alliance for Fair Food; CIW to address upcoming Slow Food Nation gathering!
New endorsements are flooding into the Alliance for Fair Food, the network of human rights, religious, student, labor, sustainable food, environmental and grassroots organizations who work in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
New AFF endorsements include such sustainable food leaders as author and activist Frances Moore Lappe ("Diet for a Small Planet") and her daughter Anna Lappe, leading food blogs ethicurean.com and grist.org, and top NGO's including Food & Water Watch, the
People's Grocery, and CATA (Centro de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas), whose visionary work through the Agricultural Justice Project has obliged the sustainable food movement to confront the issue of farmworker exploitation, even on organic and small-scale farms.
For the full list of endorsements, go to the Alliance for Fair Food website now!
And in the coming week (August 28-31), the CIW will plunge headlong into the Sustainable Food movement with a keynote panel at the massive Slow Food Nation gathering in San Francisco. The panel, part of the "Food for Thought Speaker Series," is entitled "A New, Fair Food System," and will feature Lucas Benitez from the CIW. Long-time CIW friend Eric Schlosser will be moderating the panel.
What will the CIW's message be?
Well... Chipotle is a company that prides itself on its efforts to "revolutionize the way America grows and gathers its food." Yet for more than two years, the CIW has sought to work with Chipotle -- the self-proclaimed leader in "food with integrity" -- to improve the unconscionable wages and working conditions of Florida farmworkers. And for more than two years, Chipotle has sought to distance itself at every turn from the human rights crisis in Florida's fields, seemingly content to hide in the shadows of larger companies as the Campaign for Fair Food focused on McDonald's and then Burger King.
You can be sure that part of our message will be to introduce thousands of food activists from around the country to the ugly reality of farmworker exploitation that Chipotle would prefer that its customers, and its friends in the world of sustainable agriculture, simply ignore. In fact, why wait until next week? Here's some reading you can start now:
And click here to read our own analysis of the fast-food leader's growing "Chipocrisy." See you in San Francisco!August 13, 2008
FAIR FOOD NATION TURNS UP HEAT ON CHIPOTLE!... More than one hundred students converge on Chipotle HQ in Denver!
From the Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA) website:
"This past Friday, members of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) joined local Denver residents for a rousing action at Chipotle headquarters in the Mile-High City, demanding that Chipotle live up to its own much-lauded "Food With Integrity" mantra and meet with the CIW.
Following the successful conclusion of the Burger King campaign, this action served as (yet another) wake-up call to Chipotle that it can no longer skirt responsibility and that our campaign in solidarity with farmworkers will only escalate until it comes to the table. This message was made explicit by this letter, delivered by a delegation of representatives from several national and local organizations."
Check out the excellent photo report on the SFA site from the exciting action and while you're there, you can look into plans for the SFA's upcoming , the annual gathering of student and youth Fair Food activists from around the country for a weekend of planning and analysis in Immokalee!
Additional Resources: You can tell Chipotle that it's time to help improve farm labor conditions, too, with this Manager's letter, perfect for delivery to your local Chipotle restaurant.
And for more context on the history of the relationship between the Campaign for Fair Food and Chipotle, you can read a great article from The Nation ("Want Some Basic Human Dignity with that Burrito?," 7/29/08) and take a minute to read this Scholars' letter to Steve Ells, penned by 36 legal, labor, and social science scholars questioning Chipotle's commitment to human rights.
Stay tuned in the weeks ahead, as the pressure continues to build for the fast-food industry's "sustainable food leader."July 29, 2008PRESSURE MOUNTS ON CHIPOTLE!... Media scrutiny grows as students plan major August protest at Chipotle headquarters.
For more than two years, the CIW has sought to work with Chipotle -- the self-proclaimed leader in "food with integrity" -- to improve the unconscionable wages and working conditions of Florida farmworkers. And for more than two years, Chipotle has sought to distance itself at every turn from the human rights crisis in Florida's fields, seemingly content to hide in the shadows of larger companies as the Campaign for Fair Food focused on McDonald's and then Burger King. However in the aftermath of the CIW's recent agreement with world's second largest burger chain, Chipotle finds itself increasingly isolated as public outcry intensifies.
The Nation joined the growing refrain today with a hard-hitting article entitled, "Chipotle Hypocrisy." It begins:
"In recent years, Taco Bell and Burger King have foolishly resisted efforts by activists to marginally raise the piece rate they pay tomato pickers only to eventually buckle under the pressure of well-deserved bad press. Chipotle Mexican Grill seems to have learned nothing from their lessons.
Although Chipotle, the expanding Colorado-based restaurant chain formerly owned by McDonald's, touts its fair treatment of animals and its locally-sourced organic avocados, its colorful, interactive website neglects any mention of the fair treatment of farm workers. While CEO Steve Ells boasts about his 'Food With Integrity' brand, he has ignored countless letters and petitions from all over the country, asking for an extra penny per pound for his tomato pickers." Read the article here
Meanwhile, the Naples Daily News reports that, "hundreds of members from United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) will be in Denver during the group's three-day conference and they plan to visit Chipotle's corporate headquarters on Aug. 8 to demand that the restaurant chain work with the Coalition to ensure fairer wages and a comprehensive code of conduct." The protest is the first of several upcoming actions in the fast-food chain's backyard and a hint of things to come as students prepare to return to their campuses nationwide. Read the full article: "CIW brings its tomato demands to Chipotle, Subway and Whole Foods," (7/25).
And just a few days earlier, the Bradenton Herald chimed in with its own coverage: "Workers group targets Chipotle," (7/22).
More clearly than ever, Chipotle stands at a crossroads. The company faces a choice between its continued defense of an abhorrent status quo, on the one hand, or meaningful partnership for sustainable change in Florida's fields, on the other. Given the company´s self-proclaimed commitment to "food with integrity," the choice should be obvious, yet Chipotle continues to stall. While Chipotle hesitates, the patience of farmworkers and consumers alike grows wearier with each passing day.
Resources: You can tell Chipotle that it's time to help improve farm labor conditions, too, with this Manager's letter, perfect for delivery to your local Chipotle restaurant.
And for more context on the history of the relationship between the Campaign for Fair Food and Chipotle, take a minute to read this Scholars' letter to Steve Ells, penned by 36 legal, labor, and social science scholars questioning Chipotle's commitment to human rights.
Fasten your seatbelts... looks like things might start to get bumpy for the fast-food industry's "sustainable food leader."July 17, 2008
WHAT'S BEHIND YOUR BURRITO?... Sustainable food world starting to take a closer look at the fast-food company that claims to sell "food with integrity"...
The blogosphere is turning against the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the fast-food industry, Chipotle Mexican Grill, as its marketing claims come under increasing scrutiny.
Meanwhile, more than 400 people attending the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)'s annual General Assembly sign an open letter to Chipotle's Steve Ells, calling on the company's CEO to help, "hasten the day when farmworkers enjoy the human rights they deserve and consumers have the confidence that the food they purchase promotes human well-being."
"Grist," a leading blog for environmental news and commentary, recently ran a post entitled, "Chipotle grilled: When will the conscientious burrito giant pay up for less exploitative tomatoes?" Here's an excerpt:
"Chipotle Grill has received a lot of good press over its efforts to support local food systems in the areas where it operates.
Even I've gotten into the act. In a post back in March, I reported on a conversation I had had with a Chipotle PR person:
I told her that as long as Chipotle was committed to paying a fair price to farmers -- and not merely using them them for marketing leverage -- I thought the company could play a constructive role in a nationwide transition to a truly sustainable ag. We'll see.
Well, not so fast... Chipotle has refused to sign on to a deal to pay an extra penny per pound for tomatoes from Florida, where farmworkers toil under brutal conditions for sub-poverty wages...
If Chipotle is at all serious about its pledge to serve "food with integrity," it will stop dickering around and pay up in Florida." Read the post here
The Grist post referred to another excellent opinion posted on "The Pump Handle," a popular public health blog, entitled, "Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” ignores tomato pickers." The post asks some hard questions of Chipotle's CEO Ells:
"Two years ago, the CIW asked Chipotle’s Chairman and CEO Steve Ells to follow the example taken now by the world’s three largest fast-food companies to improve the low-wages paid and dire working conditions faced by tomato pickers. To date, Chipotle’s executives have evaded the call and their “Food with Integrity” philosophy doesn’t translate to the plight of farmworkers." Read the post here
And finally, as mentioned above, on June 27th, 433 attendees at the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in San Jose wrote to the Chipotle's Ells, urging him to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers now, to improve poverty wages and exploitative working conditions in the tomato fields of Florida. Their letter reads in part:
"As followers of Jesus Christ, who announced good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) endeavors to witness clearly about the forces that exploit our human family as well as about those actions that help to heal the brokenness of our world. For many years the PC(USA) has been a partner with the farmworkers in calling upon the fast-food and grocery industry to do their part
to end these terrible conditions.
Burger King, McDonald’s and Yum! Brands corporations have all made agreements with the CIW farmworkers that are advancing human rights for farmworkers. These companies have taken reasonable steps to address the grievous exploitation which their high-volume/low-cost purchasing practices have helped to create. We urge your company to embrace the principles found in these agreements within your own supply chain."
HOW LONG? NOT LONG... Two more Florida papers weigh in on the Campaign for Fair Food and the need for change in Florida's fields...
The St. Petersburg Times and the Orlando Sentinel joined the growing discussion on the abysmal conditions facing Florida's farmworkers and the campaign to bring fair wages and humane treatment to the state's fields.
In Sunday's St. Petersburg Times, Bill Maxwell, one of the state's most respected editorialists, wrote:
"Some deeds and practices define our individual and shared morality. When, for example, we turn our backs on the cruel treatment of farmworkers, we are complicit in inhumanity and are acting immorally."
His op/ed, entitled "Eating that tomato can put you in moral peril," reviewed Florida's shameful string of six agricultural slavery prosecutions in the past decade and quoted at length the Rev. Aaron McEmrys, a Unitarian Universalist from California who spoke at a recent seminar on farmworker exploitation in Ft. Lauderdale. Here's an excerpt:
"We all agree that slavery is an abomination — a sin — a crime against humanity. And yet this kind of oppression is exactly what the people who pick our tomatoes have to live with every day. The tomatoes that nourish our bodies and add flavor to so many of our meals come with a price tag. They come at the cost of human dignity, human freedom. Once we know this, we have some real choices to make: We can either change our ways or we can go on eating those cheap tomatoes knowing that we have chosen, by default, to be fed by the suffering of other human beings — human beings just like us.
"It's not a question of whether we should get involved. If we eat tomatoes, then we are already involved. The only real questions are: What are we going to do about it? How will we be involved from here on out?"
Mr. Maxwell concludes his piece with this: "American consumers have a moral duty to stop the exploitation of farm workers. If we do not, as McEmrys argues, we enable servitude and are guilty of the 'sin of complicity.'" Read the op/ed in its entirety here.
The Orlando Sentinel also ran a story on the Campaign for Fair Food this Sunday, a front page piece that looked at the recent Burger King victory and the future of the campaign (it also included some great photos by Sentinel photographer Red Huber, including the one of CIW staff member Mathieu Beaucicot, above, and that of the CIW's Francisca Cortez and her daughter, Noemi, below). The story, entitled "Orlando area immigrants fight to hold the pennies they won," began:
"The battle between Burger King and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers wasn't a fair fight.
The King had loads of money, spin doctors and a powerful corporate brand. The coalition had little cash, high hopes and leaders making minimum wage.
The fast-food giant never stood a chance."
The story examines the FTGE's opposition to the campaign, and concludes:
"Growers also dispute the idea that migrants make poverty wages, saying payroll records show workers earn an average of $12.46 an hour -- nearly double Florida's minimum wage. Brown said thousands of workers return each year, lured by the promise of "big bucks."...
Francisca Cortez, meanwhile, just smiles. The 25-year-old Mexican said rebutting Brown's claim is easy: Just spend some time with the migrants.
"At the end, we'll always win because we have the key in our hands -- which is reality," she said. "Reality can't hide anything."
Florida's reporters and editorial writers have been doing their part to focus public attention on the brutal conditions in the state's fields. Here's a round-up of the Florida press from the past week alone:
- "They're ripe to fight," (7/6/08), Ft. Myers News-Press
- "Oppressed group vows to fight on," (7/6/08), Ft. Myers News-Press
- "Pennies a bucket don't end slavery for Florida farmworkers," (7/8/08), Daytona News-Journal
- "Tomato growers must give in" (7/10/08), Ft. Myers News-Press
- "Eating that tomato can put you in moral peril," (7/13/08) St. Petersburg Times
- "Orlando area immigrants fight to hold the pennies they won," (7/13/08) Orlando Sentinel
We began this update with the words, "How long? Not long." Forty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King would return to those words in speech after speech across the South, as he sought to firm the resolve of the Civil Rights movement in the face of stubborn opposition by political "leaders" who refused to recognize that the time for real change had come.
In his March 25th, 1965, speech in Montgomery, Alabama, following the historic march from Selma, Dr. King said:
"However difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth crushed to earth will rise again.
How long? Not long. Because no lie can live forever."
The lie that all is well in Florida's tomato industry -- a lie that has allowed industry leaders to reap personal fortunes for decades while their workers have remained mired in crushing poverty -- is dying, if not already dead.
It is time, now, for all who play a role in the industry -- farmworkers and farm employers, the major buyers of Florida tomatoes and consumers across the country -- to work together to bury that lie, to confront the exploitation of Florida's farmworkers head-on, and to move forward toward a more sustainable future.
And if you need a bit of inspiration to keep on fighting until that future is securely won, do take a look at this short video.July 10, 2008
OUCH!... Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE), Reggie Brown (right) taken to the woodshed by Florida editorial writers for stand against farmworker justice!
Two strongly-worded opinions excoriating the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange for its opposition to the CIW's groundbreaking agreements with fast-food industry leaders were published this week in major Florida papers.
From the state's southwestern Gulf coast (the Ft. Myers News-Press) to its northeastern Atlantic coast (Daytona News-Journal), editorial and opinion writers are saying "enough is enough" to the FTGE's stubborn refusal to allow its member growers to participate in the agreements that would, with the financial help of the large corporate purchasers of Florida tomatoes, significantly improve farmworker wages and working conditions.
Here's an extended excerpt from the lead editorial in today's Ft. Myers News-Press, "Tomato growers must give in" (7/10/08) :
"The Florida Tomato Growers Exchange is digging in against progress. It needs to stop playing the spoiler and realize that a new day is dawning in the treatment of farm laborers.
This largest group of Florida tomato growers is refusing to implement an agreement between farmworker advocates and three giant food service companies to increase the pay of tomato pickers by a penny per pound.
The growers need to get out of the way, or Congress needs to investigate the exchange's role in denying farmworkers their hard-won raise...
The three companies on board with the raise so far are Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC, A&W), McDonald's and most recently Burger King, which even added an extra half-cent a pound to cover payroll taxes and other costs.
These are among the very largest food retailers on Earth. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which spearheaded the agreements with years of relentless pressure, is now targeting Chipotle, Subway and Whole Foods. The tipping point has been reached, and we expect other food retailers to join the movement.
We suspect the drive to improve farmworkers' pay and conditions enjoys strong public support.
If the heavyweight food companies are sincere about this agreement, any real problems with getting these raises into the pickers' pockets can be worked out.
The growers need to get on board or be plowed under." Read the editorial in its entirety here
The Daytona News-Journal op/ed, entitled, "Pennies a bucket don't end slavery for Florida farmworkers," (7/08/08), was no less blunt. It begins:
"Reggie Brown was upset. As executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, he was before a U.S. Senate committee in April to dispute charges of slavery and human trafficking leveled at tomato growers by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, what Brown called "a purported labor organization." There's nothing "purported" about the South Florida-based organization (ciw-online.org) other than the status of its mostly Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian membership of migrants. Their employers often don't consider them quite human. More like purported human beings." Read the op/ed in its entirety here
Don't miss these two remarkably powerful editorials.
The FTGE likes to think of itself as operating beyond the reach of public opinion. But outrage -- public, press, and political -- over the FTGE's unabashed disregard for long-overdue justice in Florida's fields may very well be reaching the tipping point, in the apt words of the News-Press editorial. There comes a time when the call for reform grows so strong that it can overwhelm even the Florida agricultural industry's proven ability to lobby and maneuver against it.July 7, 2008
CIW IN THE NEWS!..
The Campaign for Fair Food makes the NBC Today Show, The Economist, a new book out by the producers of the PBS show "Now" (right), and an in-depth special report in the Ft. Myers News-Press...
The Campaign for Fair Food has gotten some much-needed attention from the mainstream media in recent days, and with the stories piling up, it is time for a quick media round-up;
- On July 3rd, the NBC's Today Show interviewed John Siceloff, co-author of a new book entitled, "Your America: Democracy's Local Heroes." You can see the video of the Today Show interview and read an excerpt from the book by clicking here. Here's what the authors had to say about the subject of their book:
"The folks you’ll read about in "Your America" told us they didn’t become activists just to plug holes in an ever-more-leaky safety net. They went to work to help build a better way of doing things, to create an America where ideas, priorities and solutions percolate up from the grassroots." read more here
- On July 6th, the Ft. Myers News-Press ran as the top story in its Sunday paper an in-depth look at the CIW and the Campaign for Fair Food, entitled, "They're ripe to fight." The accompanying story, entitled, "Oppressed group vows to fight on," is chock-full of resources for understanding the trajectory of the CIW's work over the past 15 years and the future of the Campaign. The report concludes with a quotation by the CIW's Gerardo Reyes, in response to a question about the continued resistance to change posed by the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange:
"As for the growers’ continued opposition, coalition member Gerardo Reyes Chavez said in the short-term it will keep working with the major buyers of Florida tomatoes and with the Senate, but in the long term, ordinary people will be the key to real change.
The goal, Reyes Chavez said, is to work with consumers to press the people at the top of the industry to respect the people at the bottom until, for the growers, “the incentive to do the right thing finally outweighs the instinct to do what’s been done for decades — pay and treat farmworkers like we were disposable human beings.” read more here
- Finally, on June 26th, a story on the Burger King agreement and the future of the Campaign for Fair Food was published in the august pages of The Economist, the British news journal first published in 1843. The article, "The price of a tomato: Next stop, Subway," concludes, "The coalition is still on the warpath. It wants other big buyers to pay the extra cent. It is targeting Wal-Mart, as well as the Subway sandwich store chain, Chipotle restaurants, and Whole Foods supermarkets. But most of all it wants people to think about what goes into... their burgers." read more here
“We decided long ago that we didn't want Chipotle's success to be tied to the exploitation of animals, farmers, or the environment.”
-Chipotle CEO Steve Ells on sustainable agriculture
What about farmworkers?...
In the press release announcing his company ’s agreement to work with the CIW to improve wages and working conditions in its tomato suppliers’ fields, Burger King CEO John Chidsey said, “The CIW has been at the forefront of efforts to improve farm labor conditions, exposing abuses and driving socially responsible purchasing and work practices in the Florida tomato fields.” Mr. Chidsey went on to say:
“If the Florida tomato industry is to be sustainable long-term, it must become more socially responsible. We, along with other industry leaders, recognize that the Florida tomato harvesters are in need of better wages, working conditions and respect for the hard work they do. And we look forward to working with the CIW in the pursuit of these necessary improvements. We also encourage other purchasers and growers of Florida tomatoes to engage in dialogue with the CIW in support of driving industry-wide socially responsible change."
With his statement, Mr. Chidsey and Burger King joined Yum Brands and McDonald’s in confirming two propositions that, though seemingly obvious, have been at the heart of the three central, contentious battles of the Campaign for Fair Food:
- The need for labor reform in Florida’s fields is real, and
- The CIW is a proven and effective partner for meaningful farm labor reform.
At the press conference at the US Capitol announcing the agreement with Burger King, Lucas Benitez of the CIW said, “Social responsibility in this country's food industry is inevitable, and though the exploitation of Florida's farmworkers remains unconscionable today, company by company we are building a path toward justice. The next steps are up to those companies that stand before us in the road ahead.” He went on to say:
“There are companies -- like Chipotle in the restaurant world and Whole Foods in the grocery industry -- that already make claims to social responsibility yet, when it comes to tomatoes, fall far short of their lofty claims. It is time, now, that those companies live out the true meaning of their marketers' words.”
Food with Integrity?...
Let’s take the case of Chipotle Mexican Grill. Chiptole aggressively markets itself as a company dedicated to what it calls “Food with Integrity.” The company’s website even goes so far as to claim that Chipotle will “revolutionize the way America grows and gathers its food,” by leveraging its high volume purchases to change its suppliers’ practices.
Given this philosophy, why in the world has Chipotle refused to acknowledge the urgent need for farm labor reform in Florida – in the face of readily available Department of Labor statistics that confirm the severity of farmworker poverty and six federal prosecutions for farm labor slavery in the past decade? And why has Chipotle refused to partner with the CIW?
Well, in the months since the successful conclusion of the Burger King campaign, we’ve had some time to look into the companies that “stand before us in the road ahead,” their practices and their stated philosophies, and in the course of that research we came across the quote by Mr. Steve Ells, the founder and CEO of Chipotle, that begins this update. And that quote – precisely for what it doesn’t say -- appears to reveal a crucial blind spot in the company’s vision of “Food with Integrity.”
Here’s the quote again: “We decided long ago that we didn't want Chipotle's success to be tied to the exploitation of animals, farmers, or the environment.”
The sentence in and of itself isn't outrageous -- the protection of farm animals, family farmers, and the environment is indisputably a good and important mission. But Chiptole's total omission of farmworkers -- of fair wages and humane treatment for farmworkers in its supply chain -- is outrageous. So blind is the company to the need for farm labor reform that, in its list of things exploited in the way our country “grows and gathers its food,” Chipotle excludes the very people who gather our food!
The road to a truly just food industry is long and complex. Chipotle could be forgiven if, in its effort to imagine a world of fair food, it simply overlooked the people who work in the fields.
But as Lucas said in Washington, “After eight years of this campaign -- and the very public commitment of the three largest fast-food companies in the world to the principles of Fair Food -- they can no longer claim ignorance of the problem nor can they say that the solution is not possible.”
So we ask Chipotle this question: Does it really matter that a tomato is organic if it was harvested by workers paid far less than a living wage, or, worse yet, by people forced to work against their will?
We think the answer is obvious, and we suspect those at the top of Chipotle do, too. So what are we waiting for?...
While we wait for Chipotle, here's some more reading and resources that might interest you on the question of Chipotle and the Campaign for Fair Food:
- Scholars' letter - 36 legal, labor, and social science scholars pen open letter to Steve Ells calling on Chipotle to work with the CIW
- Manager's letter - to deliver to the manager of your local Chipotle restaurant
- Chipotle flyer - coming soon!
And meanwhile, you can check out the action at a recent protest by the Denver-based Fair Food Committee outside Chipotle's corporate headquarters. Stay tuned for more to come in the growing campaign for real integrity in Chipotle's tomato supply chain.June 27, 2008
SCHOLARS' LETTER TO CHIPOTLE: "Urgent need for reform in the fields requires us to intensify our call and actions for justice"...
Nearly a year and a half ago, 36 leading scholars in the fields of labor law, labor studies, and social research, joined by the founding members of the Alliance for Fair Food, wrote a letter to Chipotle CEO Steve Ells. They began their letter:
"It has come to our attention that in response to the CIW’s requests to meet and to work together to address human rights abuses of farmworkers in your company’s tomato supply chain, Chipotle has, instead, decided to suspend purchases of Florida tomatoes and unilaterally investigate the CIW’s 'claims.'"
The powerfully-written letter continued:
"Suspending tomato purchasing from Florida does not mitigate the problem of sweatshop conditions in Chipotle’s tomato supply chain and will not enable Chiplote to keep the public’s faith in your claim of selling “Food with Integrity.” Nor will it satisfy the growing and committed constituency taking action in support of human rights of farmworkers. On the contrary, it is an abdication of the very notion of corporate responsibility at the heart of your aggressively-marketed mission of 'integrity.'"
The letter was not immediately made public, in order to allow Chipotle to respond before bringing public pressure. The signatories' patience, however, would not be infinite:
"AFF has opted to give your company time and space to examine the issues raised by this campaign, trusting that Chipotle would choose to live up to its commitment to integrity. Instead, with every day that passes, farmworkers in Chipotle’s supply chain continue living a nightmare of exploitation.
If Chipotle continues its current path of avoidance, however, the urgent need for reform in the fields requires us to intensify our call and actions for justice. As scholars concerned about the welfare of working people, and as endorsers of the Alliance for Fair Food, many with national membership bases, we are committed to continuing the Campaign for Fair Food until fair wages and working conditions become a reality for farmworkers."
With the successful conclusion of the Burger King campaign and the support, now, of the three largest companies in the fast-food industry for the principles of Fair Food, the time to "intensify our call and actions for justice" in Chipotle's supply chain has come.
You can also take action yourself with these simple tools (click on the links to download the pdf's):
- Manager's letter - to deliver to the manager of your local Chipotle restaurant
- Chipotle flyer - coming soon!
And meanwhile, you can check out the action at a recent protest by the Denver-based Fair Food Committee outside Chipotle's corporate headquarters. Stay tuned for more to come in the growing campaign for real integrity in Chipotle's tomato supply chain.June 16, 2008
FATHERS' DAY IN IMMOKALEE...
Click on the link below to read a moving, in-depth profile of the CIW's Mathieu Beaucicot from the Naples Daily News, entitled, "Promise kept: Immigrant father endures long-distance love to support, unite family stranded in Haiti"...
Here's and excerpt to get you started:
THE ROAD AHEAD IN THE CAMPAIGN FOR FAIR FOOD!...
"Like any father, he knows certain dates by heart: when he married their mother; the days that they, his five children, were born; and when it was that he sat in the audience at high school graduations, bursting with pride.
But Mathieu Beaucicot’s story includes other moments that many fathers don’t face.
In September 1991, Haiti’s democratically-elected government was overthrown in a violent military coup. Beaucicot was forced to say goodbye to his family and flee his native country. His life was in danger.
He left behind four young children and his wife Roselene, who was eight months pregnant with their fifth child. He arrived in the United States as a political refugee on Jan. 3, 1992.
It would be more than a decade before Beaucicot (pronounced Bo-see-co) would be able to return to see his family, and even longer before they would be reunited." click here for the rest of the article
In the aftermath of last month's victory in the Burger King campaign, we want to draw your attention to some words about the future of the Campaign for Fair Food that may have been lost in all the news around the agreement. Addressing the joint press conference at the US Capitol, Lucas Benitez of the CIW said:
"Dr. Martin Luther King said it best when he said, 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.'
Social responsibility in this country's food industry is inevitable, and though the exploitation of Florida's farmworkers remains unconscionable today, company by company we are building a path toward justice. The next steps are up to those companies that stand before us in the road ahead.
There are companies -- like Chipotle in the restaurant world and Whole Foods in the grocery industry -- that already make claims to social responsibility yet, when it comes to tomatoes, fall far short of their lofty claims. It is time, now, that those companies live out the true meaning of their marketers' words.
And there are companies -- like Subway and WalMart -- that, by the sheer volume of their purchases, profit like few others from the pernicious poverty of workers in Florida's fields. They, too, must step up now. After eight years of this campaign -- and the very public commitment of the three largest fast-food companies in the world to the principles of Fair Food -- they can no longer claim ignorance of the problem nor can they say that the solution is not possible.
So to all of you who have marched with us, organized petition drives with us, prayed with us, and struggled with us, today is a day to celebrate this hard-fought victory. Tomorrow, with renewed energy and purpose, we begin our work again to make respect for fundamental human rights in Florida's tomato fields truly universal."
UPDATE 5/29: Editorial Support Strong for New CIW/BK Agreement!...
See all the latest media here!
- Video excerpts from the press conference
- Exclusive photo report from the press conference
- Click here for the joint press release
- Editorial: "What's with the farmers," Palm Beach Post, 5/28/08
- Editorial: "News reporting advanced justice," Ft. Myers News-Press, 5/28/08
- Editorial: "Coalition of Immokalee Workers," Palm Beach Post, 6/1/08
- Editorial: "At last Burger King does the right thing," St. Petersburg Times, 6/2/08
- "Farmworkers get a Whopper of a win," Creative Loafing (Tampa Bay, FL), 6/1/08
More media coverage of the agreement:
- New York Times, "Burger King Grants Raise to Pickers," 5/24/08
- The Nation, "Sweet Victory: Coalition of Immokalee Workers Wins," 5/23/08
- Wall Street Journal, "Burger King Ends Dispute with Farmworkers Group," 5/24/08
- Ft. Myers News-Press, "Farmworkers celebrate deal with Burger King," 5/24/08
Press release highlights:
- BK CEO John Chidsey: "We are pleased to now be working together with the CIW to further the common goal of improving Florida tomato farmworkers' wages, working conditions and lives. The CIW has been at the forefront of efforts to improve farm labor conditions, exposing abuses and driving socially responsible purchasing and work practices in the Florida tomato fields. We apologize for any negative statements about the CIW or its motives previously attributed to BKC or its employees and now realize that those statements were wrong. Today we turn a new page in our relationship and begin a new chapter of real progress for Florida farmworkers."
- CIW's Lucas Benitez: "The events of the past months have been trying. But we are prepared to move forward, together now with Burger King, toward a future of full respect for the human rights of workers in the Florida tomato fields. Today we are one step closer to building a world where we, as farmworkers, can enjoy a fair wage and humane working conditions in exchange for the hard and essential work we do everyday. We are not there yet, but we are getting there, and this agreement should send a strong message to the rest of the restaurant and supermarket industry: Now is the time to join Yum! Brands, McDonalds, and Burger King in righting the wrongs that have been allowed to linger in Florida’s fields for far too long."
- US Senator Bernie Sanders: "I have been to Immokalee and seen first-hand the conditions for farm workers there, perhaps the most exploited workers in America. I am very pleased that Burger King has agreed to help the tomato pickers who have worked for too long for too little. I know that this has been a long and hard road for Burger King, and I believe the American people will appreciate what they are doing."
- US Senator Dick Durbin: "I applaud Burger King for announcing today that it will be providing an extra penny per pound to the tomato pickers of Immokalee, Florida and establishing a zero-tolerance policy for worker abuses in the region. Today's announcement is a major step forward in improving the wages and working conditions of the Immokalee workers. I call on other purchasers of the region's tomatoes and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange to join Burger King and do the right thing for these workers.
Agreement details: The agreement extends Fair Food principles to the world's second-largest hamburger chain. Highlights include:
- BK agrees to pay an additional net penny per pound to the Florida farm workers who harvest its tomatoes. To encourage grower participation in this increased wage program, BK will also pay incremental payroll taxes and administrative costs incurred by the growers as a result of their farmworkers' increased wages, or a total of 1.5 cents per pound of tomatoes.
- BK also joins other fast-food industry leaders and the CIW in calling for an industry-wide net penny per pound surcharge to increase wages for Florida tomato harvesters.
- Together, BK and the CIW have also established zero tolerance guidelines for certain unlawful activities that require immediate termination of any grower from the Burger King supply chain. The BK/CIW collaboration additionally provides for farmworker participation in the monitoring of growers' compliance with the company's vendor code of conduct.