Authors: "True cost of [dignified] labour must be worker-defined."

Unique team of academics and Worker-driven Social Responsibility practitioners pens extended letter to the editor of the peer-reviewed scientific and technology research journal,, calls for researchers studying the "True Cost Accounting" of "decent" labor systems to "lend their eyes and ears to the worker communities already creating solutions" to gain a real understanding of the human cost of exploitation and the economic value of eliminating longstanding abuses and elevating working conditions in corporate supply chains...

Authors: "Two distinct but related programs in the USA [the Fair Food Program and the Milk With Dignity Program] have demonstrated that it is possible to end longstanding abuses, ranging from forced labour to sexual harassment and assault; improve health and safety; raise wages; ensure decent housing; provide protection from employer intimidation and retaliation; and holistically elevate the decency of work."

How do you put a value on the elimination of rape in the workplace?

That is the question facing economists and other academic researchers attempting to apply the "True Cost Accounting" framework to the food industry, and to the unprecedented gains achieved by the Fair Food Program, the Milk With Dignity Program and other Worker-driven Social Responsibility initiatives in corporate supply chains.  True Cost Accounting is defined as:

... a new type of bookkeeping that does not just look at the usual financial values within a company, but also calculates the impacts on natural and social capital; or said differently, it calculates the impacts on the natural and social environment in which the company operates. These impacts are calculated in monetary terms, so the amounts can be incorporated in the True Cost books. The "hidden costs" of production, which were externalised in the old system, are made visible and internalised.

While most costs of any given corporation's, or economic sector's, business operations are relatively straightforward to calculate, others -- including those typical of abuses hidden in the farm labor economy for decades, such as widespread forced labor, sexual harassment and assault, and physical violence -- are far thornier to assess and have never been adequately accounted for in traditional economic analyses of our modern food production and distribution economy.  The ignorance of those costs -- willful or otherwise -- has contributed to the continued exploitation of workers at the base of corporate supply chains in the food industry for generations, as the true costs of planting, growing, harvesting, and transporting food have landed on the shoulders of those least able to bear them (and least able to shed them onto others in the supply chain): low-wage farmworkers.  

In other, simpler terms... Farmworkers across the US agricultural industry -- and to an even greater extent, farm laborers in poorer countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti -- have been beaten, raped, and robbed at work for generations, while economists studying the industries in which they work, and investors and corporations deriving billions in profits from their labor, have turned a blind eye to their exploitation.

Until now.  

In a powerful letter to the editor of the respected science and technology journal, a unique group of academics and Worker-driven Social Responsibility practitioners joined forces to challenge True Cost Accounting researchers to take heed of the groundbreaking work of the Fair Food Program in the produce industry, the Milk With Dignity Program in the dairy industry, and other WSR initiatives; to study their success in eliminating longstanding abuses such as sexual assault and forced labor; and to incorporate the horrible costs of those practices, and the immense value of real human rights compliance, into their analyses of the food industry.  


The letter itself stretches across two full pages of the journal and includes a never-seen-before graphic (above) detailing the flow of financial resources, worker voice, and market influences that drive the CIW's Fair Food Program and its unique success.   It begins with a broad description of the problem of current accounting practices and the authors suggested solution:

To the Editor: Amidst the expanded use of true cost accounting (TCA) frameworks by industry, government, and other stakeholders in the food sector, the true cost of labour -- of decent work -- remains largely absent...  We propose that TCA could learn from two worker-driven success cases in the USA, which offer market solutions and demonstrate that a cost and value redistribution throughout food supply chains has mutually benefitted each node and raised labour standards to levels supported by workers...

The letter continues with a critique of the standard "Multi-stakeholder Initiative" model of corporate social responsibility:

... The recent increase in top-down multi-stakeholder (MSI) certifications offers a warning about fairer prices mechanisms for social impact outcomes.  MSIs often suffer from weak accountability, with benefits accrued primarily by consumer brands or retailers.  While some effectively provide benefit to communities and farmers at the origin, evidence suggests MSIs show mixed or no impact for workers and struggle to challenge the underlying power structures that perpetuate indecent conditions...

The authors then turn to the Worker-driven Social Responsibility model and the opportunities it provides for researchers to get a handle on the true cost of indecent labor conditions and the value of human rights compliance:

"Two distinct but related programs in the USA [the Fair Food Program and the Milk With Dignity Program] have demonstrated that it is possible to end longstanding abuses, ranging from forced labour to sexual harassment and assault; improve health and safety; raise wages; ensure decent housing; provide protection from employer intimidation and retaliation; and holistically elevate the decency of work...  

... On the basis of lessons from those programs, we suggest that TCA analyses assess five core components evident in WSR, which structurally incentive decent work, distribute benefits throughout supply chain nodes and lay the groundwork for accurate TCA of labour.  These include assessing the degree to which 1) workers are centered in program design and implementation, 2) corporations financially incentivize labour rights compliance among suppliers, 3) labour rights monitoring and enforcement is swift, rigorous and worker-informed, 4) buyer-worker agreements are legally binding and enforceable, and 5) economic consequences reward good actors and penalize suppliers where abuse occurs. 

The letter concludes:

No holistic TCA of food is complete without decent labour, with its broad spillover effects on human health and community welfare. Those deterred by the complexities of pricing and implementing decent labour systems should heed the WSR examples of the FFP and MD and lend their eyes and ears to the worker communities already creating solutions."

It is a remarkable, if complex, analysis of an important, emerging field dedicated to accurately measuring real social change.  You can go here to read the letter in its entirety




SAVE THE DATE: Boycott Wendy’s Week of Action, November 15-21!

October 19, 2021

Time to get creative: Get ready to participate in a series of five, 1-minute virtual actions in support of the Wendy’s Boycott during next month’s national Week of Action! PLUS: San Francisco students and community members pay a visit to DoorDash headquarters to demand the company drop Wendy’s as a business partner and #DeliverWithDignity!  Recent news of yet another brutal forced labor case in agriculture, and the growing evidence of the Fair Food Program’s unparalleled power, have demonstrated that it is both necessary and possible to radically transform farm labor conditions in the U.S. agricultural industry.  Yet despite the many compelling reasons […]

“This is the Dream Team”… CIW, Partners In Health, and the Healthcare Network address unique partnership to fight Covid

October 15, 2021

Press Club of Southwest Florida hosts panel on Immokalee’s “Dream Team” COVID response as way forward for addressing increasing health inequality; Jude Beauchamp, Partners in Health: Our partnership is “unique, and can be a model to be extended in other underserved, struggling communities”; Gerardo Reyes, CIW: “To build something that makes sense, what you need is the people who are suffering the most to be part of crafting it, because they are the ones that know what it is that is failing.” Earlier this month, CIW’s Gerardo Reyes Chavez spoke at a panel event that explored Immokalee’s COVID-19 response as […]

Latest slavery indictments expose exploitive nature of H-2A “guestworker” program…

October 5, 2021

Associated Press (9/22/21): Farm bosses employing H-2A guestworkers harvesting in Florida and 3 other states “face charges of conspiracy under the RICO Act, conspiracy to commit forced labor, forced labor and conspiracy to obstruct proceedings before departments”; Newest indictments underscore extreme vulnerability of temporary agricultural workers as H-2A program expands rapidly on farms across the country; Lack of adequate oversight makes more cases of modern-day slavery inevitable without expansion of enforceable protections like those of the Fair Food Program. Last week, federal authorities announced the indictment of three people — Bladimir Moreno, Christina Gamez, and Guadalupe Mendes Mendoza — by a […]

“Here’s what justice looks like to me”: Read Nicolas Morales Jr.’s open letter on losing his father, re-posted.

September 23, 2021

 WATCH: Naples Daily News video (above), “Coalition of Immokalee Workers asks for justice in the death of Nicolas Morales”… Nicolas Morales Jr.: “I will need to be strong, and with the help of loving people, I will manage to become stronger, and to become a good man, just like my dad was.” Last week’s vigil and petition delivery outside the Collier County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) in Naples was an extraordinary event.  It was extraordinary not so much for the power of its numbers, at least compared to memorable CIW actions from the past, but for that of its message, […]

Immokalee youth: “Our community is not safe until those officers are gone from our streets…”

September 20, 2021

Dozens of farmworkers and Southwest Florida allies mark one year since Nicolas Morales was shot to death by a Collier County Sheriff’s deputy with vigil outside Collier County Sheriff’s office in Naples demanding justice for Nicolas, accountability for officers responsible for his brutal killing, mauling… Nicolas Morales, Jr., 13: “In my opinion there should have been a conversation, not weapons, the officers could have tried to talk to my dad maybe with a therapist there or, at least an officer that knows how to manage with that type of situation. I wish every single day that my dad was alive. […]

A Community Speaks with One Voice: Vigil for Justice for Nicolas Morales Today!

September 17, 2021

CIW’s Lupe Gonzalo in Naples Daily News today: “We want to be treated as human beings. We want sufficient attention being placed on the mental health needs of people in Immokalee.” Join us today at 3 p.m. at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office in Naples to deliver a petition demanding an end to police brutality for all of Collier County…  And if you’re not able to join us in person, you can demand justice for Nicolas by calling Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk at 239-252-0555 today!  Today, September 17, marks the one-year anniversary of the brutal killing of Nicolas Morales, a […]

Bring the Fair Food Program to Your Neighborhood!

September 13, 2021

SURVEY: Tell us about your local food co-op or independent grocer and if they might help support the award-winning Fair Food Program! Remember life, and the Fair Food movement, before the pandemic?…   Even if massive Fair Food marches may remain on hold while the nation fights COVID-19, you can still help support and expand the FFP’s award-winning protections by calling on your local food co-op or independent grocery store to become a Fair Food Sponsor today! While “normal life” for most of us has changed dramatically since the spring of 2020, the widespread abuse and exploitation of farmworkers in this […]

Naples Daily News Highlights New FFP Heat Stress Standards in interview with CIW’s Cruz Salucio

September 8, 2021

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RELEASED: 2021 Fair Food Program Report

September 2, 2021

Today we are thrilled to preview the 2021 Fair Food Program “State of the Program Report!” QUICK LINK: 2021 Fair Food Program Report Ten years in, one of many factors that continue to elevate the Fair Food Program over less rigorous “social auditing” and PR-driven corporate social responsibility schemes is the Program’s level of data collection, analysis, and transparency of results. The Fair Food Standards Council, the third-party monitor that oversees enforcement of the Program’s standards, produces the report for each season by interpreting all the quantitative and qualitative data that FFSC investigators and analysts collect from audits, hotline calls, […]

The time for waiting is over. The time for action is now.

August 27, 2021

Nearly a year has passed without justice for Nicolas Morales, gunned down by Collier County Sheriff’s deputy who remains on the job, and in our streets, today… Leaving bad police on the streets begets more police violence. Accountability for past violence isn’t just the right thing to do for those already victimized by police brutality, it prevents future abuse, too. Call to Action: Join us on September 17th at 3pm at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office in Naples to deliver a petition demanding justice for Nicolas and an end to police brutality for all of Collier County! This September 17th […]