MARCH 14-18: Get ready Fair Food Nation! Farmworkers are organizing a 5-day march from Pahokee, FL, home of Florida’s most recent federal forced labor case, to the billionaire enclave of Palm Beach, where the power to end farmworker exploitation resides, to demand that three key remaining Fair Food holdouts – Wendy’s, Publix, and Kroger – join the award-winning Fair Food Program!

Ready to join us for the 2-mile grand finale in Palm Beach on March 18? Click here to register for the 2023 Build A New World March!

On March 14 of this year, farmworkers, their families, and their consumer allies from across the country will gather in the rural town of Pahokee, Florida, to launch an extraordinary action to end farmworker exploitation.  Equipped with brightly-colored artwork and an unwavering commitment to bring the Fair Food Program’s gold-standard human rights protections to all of this country’s farmworkers, they will embark on the Build A New World March, walking under the hot Florida sun for 5 days and 40+ miles, from the vast vegetable and sugar cane fields of Pahokee to the luxury store-lined streets of Palm Beach.

The march begins in the remote, agricultural community of Pahokee for a reason: In December of 2016, two workers called the CIW to report a forced labor operation based in Pahokee and run by a crew leader by the name of Bladimir Moreno.  The two men – harvesting watermelons under H2A “guestworker” visas – escaped Moreno’s crew by hiding in the trunk of a car, leaving dozens more workers still toiling under Moreno’s control.  They told of being held against their will on a labor camp surrounded by barbed wire, working and living under constant surveillance, and earning extremely low pay.   

Their report launched an investigation, which led to a federal prosecution that ended — six long years after the workers’ call to the CIW — in guilty pleas by Moreno and three of his associates.  In a press release announcing the sentencing, Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division described the conditions that workers faced in Moreno’s operation, an operation that stretched from Florida to Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky and Indiana: “These defendants exploited their victims’ vulnerabilities and immigration status, promising them access to the American dream but then turning around and confiscating their passports and threatening arrest and deportation if they did not endlessly toil away for their profit.”  US Attorney Roger Handberg added, “Forcing individuals to work against their will using abusive and coercive tactics is not only unconscionable, but illegal.”

Following the sentencing, CIW Co-founder Lucas Benitez spoke to reporters to put the most recent Florida forced labor prosecution into context:

“This is not the first federal prosecution for forced labor that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has uncovered and helped investigate, but the thirteenth,” CIW co-founder Lucas Benitez told The Packer. “The truth is, modern-day slavery remains a systemic problem in agriculture, and that problem is only going to continue to grow with the expansion of the H-2A program. But the good news is, it is not a problem without a solution.”

“If all major buyers of produce were to join the Fair Food Program and require their suppliers to meet its basic human rights standards — just as all major buyers require their suppliers to meet basic food safety standards — the market for the produce harvested without regard to U.S. law and fundamental human rights would dry up overnight, and forced labor rings like that run by Bladimir Moreno and his associates would have nowhere to operate,” Benitez said.

It is indeed a major victory to have sought, and won, justice for the workers who suffered abuse for years under Moreno. But for farmworkers in Immokalee, prosecution is not a satisfactory answer. We must ensure prevention.  That’s why, two decades ago, the CIW launched the Campaign for Fair Food, and — with the tireless support of tens of thousands of consumer allies across the country — ten years later, in 2011, the Fair Food Program was born.

Since the inception of the Fair Food Program over a decade ago in Immokalee, two parallel worlds have existed side-by-side within US agriculture: the world of freedom from abuse on farms under the FFP, and the world of harsh exploitation outside its protections.  Inside the world of the Fair Food Program, workers have the power and the tools to be the frontline monitors of their own rights. Thanks to the Program, there is a comprehensive and worker-informed Code of Conduct, regular worker-to-worker education sessions, a 24-hour complaint resolution mechanism, and routine best-in-class audits by trained human rights investigators.  Most importantly, all of these interlocking mechanisms are backed by legally-binding agreements with 14 of the world’s largest buyers of produce, ensuring that agricultural employers and their farm bosses are held accountable for violations through swift market consequences for unchecked and un-remediated abuse. 

If the farm where the two workers in Pahokee in 2016 who reported Moreno had been part of the Fair Food Program, they wouldn’t have had to endure the inhumane, dangerous conditions they encountered.  Why?  Because from Day 1, they would have been educated on their rights and provided multiple avenues for reporting any form of abuse.  And the growers whose watermelons they harvested would know that the discovery of forced labor on their farm would lose them the business of over a dozen of the world’s largest buyers.  Period.  That’s how we achieve prevention in the Fair Food Program.  

Yet despite more than a decade of documented, unprecedented human rights progress under the FFP, and despite sickening examples of abuse like the Moreno forced labor operation continuing to make headlines year after year, there are nevertheless corporations that refuse to embrace the gold standard for human rights protections in their supply chain by joining the Fair Food Program.

Wendy’s – whose Board Chair lives and does business in Palm Beach, one of the wealthiest communities in the United States and less than 50 miles from Pahokee, but continues to turn a blind eye to the only proven solution to modern-day slavery, the Fair Food Program;

Publix – Florida’s self-declared “hometown grocer,” that refuses to join Florida’s very own homegrown, Presidential Medal-winning human rights program.

Kroger – one of the country’s largest supermarkets, which has trumpeted its commitment to social responsibility and claims to “uphold high standards and expectations for human rights and fair labor in our U.S. and global food and consumer products supply chain,” but also refuses to join the Fair Food Program as the only documented means to not just “expect” human rights in their supply chain, but enforce them.

The answer is simple: As Lucas told reporters following the Moreno sentencing, “If all major buyers of produce were to join the Fair Food Program… the market for the produce of farms that operate without regard to US law and fundamental human rights would dry up overnight, and forced labor rings like that run by Bladimir Moreno and his associates would have nowhere to operate.”

But as long as major corporations like Wendy’s, Kroger’s, and Publix continue to turn their backs on worker-driven social responsibility and refuse to join the Program, unethical farm employers will continue to operate away from the scrutiny on the FFP’s best-in-class monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, and farm labor abuse affecting tens of thousands of farmworkers from Florida to California will continue unchecked.

This year, help us build a new world free from forced labor, sexual violence, wage theft, and dangerous working conditions.  Help us build the world where farmworkers’ fundamental human rights are not just recognized, but enforced.  Help us expand the Fair Food Program. 

Together, we will follow in the footsteps of 30 years of CIW organizing and more than a decade of documented, unparalleled success in monitoring and enforcing human rights.

Together we will take to the streets – workers and conscious consumers, shoulder to shoulder — to build a new world of freedom for all farmworkers.

Join the CIW’s Build A New World: March for Farmworker Freedom!

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