Gerardo Reyes Chavez, CIW: “To protect workers and give the program’s human rights standards real teeth, the FPP harnessed buyers ’massive market power to reward growers who respected their workers’ rights and to stop buying from farms where workers were mistreated.”

Jon Esformes, CEO of Sunripe Certified Brands: “In 2010 when we partnered there were a lot of folks who said we were crazy. And maybe we were… I mean farmers and farmworkers coming together to ensure a fair and safe workplace. That’s nuts. Within a few months the evidence was clear that the program worked and the culture in our farms was changing for the better."

A farmworker and a farm owner sharing a stage to talk about their partnership is an exceedingly rare sight. Indeed, for generations such a sight coming from Florida's fields was unthinkable. But that’s exactly what happened last week at TED’s Countdown Dilemma event in New York City in a rare TED "duet" talk featuring the CIW's Gerardo Reyes and leading FFP participating grower Jon Esformes of Pacific Tomato Growers. 

The TED event featured a wide array of intellectuals and industry-leading practitioners discussing ways to mitigate the growing impacts of climate change and build a resilient, sustainable food system that includes protections for all those whose labor feeds the rest of the world in an age of rapidly rising temperatures. 

In the two-day event's closing talk, the CIW’s Gerardo Reyes Chavez, a farmworker, and Jon Esformes, CEO of Sunripe Certified Brands and the first major grower to join the Fair Food Program back in 2010, spoke to an audience of climate change experts and human rights advocates about the life-saving heat stress provisions of the Program -- protections recently called "America's strongest workplace heat rules" by The Washington Post -- and the urgent need to expand the Presidential Medal-winning program as far and wide as possible. 

Their very presence on the same stage, trading stories about what brought them to the table together as partners, reflects the novel partnership between workers and growers at the heart of the FFP that makes the Program such an effective and dynamic human rights model. And as the TED audience learns, their respective journeys that brought them together as part of that unique collaboration were deeply personal. 

We are excited to share some brief excerpts from their talk here below, but if you want to watch the video of their joint TED Talk in its entirety you'll have to wait to see it with the rest of the world when the folks at TED publish it in the months ahead!:

Jon: Gerardo and I are here today as a farmer and a Farmworker to share with you how we turned decades of conflict into a collaborative partnership and positioned ourselves to meet the challenges of climate change. Gerardo, It’s great to be here with you in the air-conditioned auditorium instead of our normal workplace out in the fields of South Florida. 

Gerardo: Thanks, Jon; it’s great to be here with you, too, talking about what we’ve been able to do to make the fields a more humane place to work because when we first started our partnership 14 years ago, I was harvesting watermelons with our crew in north Florida, near the border with Alabama, and I nearly lost my best friend in this country to the heat.

I remember it as if it were yesterday… It was the beginning of summer, but temperatures were already above the 90s and even more with the heat index. Like any other day in melons, we were joking back and forth to pass the time and forget how hard the work was when suddenly my best friend — and someone I consider my brother  — fell to the ground, unconscious and unmoving, except for occasional spasms.  We called an ambulance and tried to cool him and shade him from the sun as best we could, but for several terrifying minutes, I thought my brother was dying right before my eyes. Luckily, he came to once the ambulance arrived, and when he got to the hospital, they diagnosed severe dehydration and gave him an IV.  He was back with the crew within a few hours and back to work the next day, but organ damage from that kind of dehydration can be long-lasting, and the fear we felt that day was all too real.  Too close and too personal. 

Today, I’m proud to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a farmworker-based, human rights organization in Immokalee, FL, that protects farmworkers from abuse and dangerous working conditions, an organization I joined about 25 years ago when I first came to this country to work in the fields...

... It was in 2010 when we came together, farmworkers and farmers, following nearly two decades of often bitter conflict, in a groundbreaking new human rights enforcement program called the Fair Food Program (FFP). In the 14 years since its inception, our program has leveraged the purchasing power of 14 of the world’s largest retail food corporations to empower farmworkers to identify abuses when they happen -- without fear! To protect workers and give the program’s human rights standards real teeth, the FPP harnessed buyers ’massive market power to reward growers who respected their workers' rights and to stop buying from farms where workers were mistreated. With those new market incentives in place, the results were spectacular. Before long, the worst abuses stopped altogether, and the FFP grew to dozens of new states and crops. FFP farms were called“ the best workplace environment in American agriculture” on the front page of the New York Times.

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