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.




How Worker-driven Social Responsibility is ushering in a new day of human rights in the global economy

June 11, 2024

CIW: “The promise of Worker-driven Social Responsibility – a model by which workers are able to define and enforce their own rights – is to modernize workers’ human rights by flipping market incentives and conditioning profits on respect for workers’ human rights.” “Workers everywhere deserve safety, dignity, and a fair wage: with the emergence of WSR, they now have a novel tool to empower themselves to become the frontline monitors of their own rights, and to usher in a new day of real, measurable human rights enforcement in the global economy.” Against a backdrop of cascading climate catastrophes; surging authoritarian […]

The CIW mourns those farmworkers killed in the May 14 bus crash, calls for greater protections for all farmworkers

May 21, 2024

  Lucas Benitez, CIW: “It hurts to think about how their families have yet to learn about this, that their loved ones cannot come home to their country and hug their children, their spouses, their parents.” At 6:30 in the morning of Tuesday, May 14, an oncoming pick-up truck veered out of its lane on a two-lane stretch of State Road 40 near the central Florida town of Ocala and sideswiped a bus full of farmworkers heading to the fields to harvest watermelons. The collision caused the bus to swerve off the narrow road and lose control, careening first into […]

The making of Esperanza, a 15 foot animated puppet championing the hopes of farmworkers

May 6, 2024

It has been nearly two months since the debut of Esperanza – a 15 foot animated farmworker puppet, who as her name reveals, embodies the hopes of farmworkers for dignity and freedom in the fields. Her first major public appearance came at the first-ever Farmworker Freedom Festival in Palm Beach, FL, which culminated in a powerful ceremony designed to bring the Fair Food Nation’s message of hope home to Wendy’s Board Chair Nelson Peltz.  Farmworkers, their families and their allies gathered in a gorgeous park across the street from Peltz’s beachside mansion, where they shared, framed by giant banyan trees, the […]

“Food, Inc. 2”, featuring the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, is officially out in theaters and on streaming platforms!

April 22, 2024

Gerardo Reyes Chavez, farmworker and senior staff member of the CIW, speaking on a panel at the DC screening of “Food, Inc. 2:” “Workers in other parts of the US and the globe today want to replicate the protections we have created for workers in the fields in their own realities…. The time for Worker-driven Social Responsibility has come.” Senator Cory Booker on Mr. Chavez and the CIW:“Sincerely, I was floored and blown away by what this man has accomplished with others in organizing both here in the United States and across the world, giving people not just dignity and fair […]

Fair Food Program, Worker-driven Social Responsibility hailed in new analysis of DOL study on worker voice

April 15, 2024

Thea Lee, Department of Labor’s deputy undersecretary for international affairs on the original Department of Labor report: “We commissioned the report,” she said, “precisely because there are so many versions of inadequate worker voice or social audits or corporate-driven compliance programs. We really wanted to have a well-researched, well-articulated framework with clear examples that would be of real value to corporations, to government, to unions and to organizers who are trying to create something better for workers.” Lee on the CIW: “The Coalition was really able to make something out of nothing. They were able to leverage the power of the […]

MacKenzie Scott’s Yield Giving gives $2 million to fuel expansion of Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program

April 5, 2024

Lupe Gonzalo, farmworker and CIW staff member: “Continuing to expand is quite urgent. It’s quite important because only this path of the Fair Food Program has made a difference for thousands of workers.”  A few days ago, we announced a partnership with Spanish farmworkers to explore building the first-ever Worker-driven Social Responsibility program in the EU.  Today we have another exciting piece of news to share: MacKenzie Scott’s Yield Giving has announced that the Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC) – the third-party monitoring organization responsible for enforcing the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program (FFP)  – will receive a grant […]

New US Dept of Labor Report: Worker-driven Social Responsibility gives critical voice to workers, deepens democracy

April 2, 2024

US Dept of Labor Report: “The FFP has raised compensation, reduced health and safety risks, and eliminated forced labor, child labor, and gender-based violence for approximately 30,000 workers at 20 employers supplying 14 retail, fast-food, and food-service companies.” “When authentic worker voice exists, workers participate in collective efforts to… identify problems, propose solutions, negotiate agreements, and hold parties accountable – democracy in action, at work.” A newly released report from the US Department of Labor compiles countless case studies from around the world to conclude that enhancing workers’ voices promotes more robust communities, and safer, more equitable, more democratic workplaces. More tangibly, the […]

Breaking: CIW to join with Spanish farmworkers in exploration of Worker-driven Social Responsibility in Spanish Produce Industry

March 29, 2024

Lucas Benitez, CIW co-founder: “As workers ourselves – the men and women who built this new model and experienced this remarkable change – we are excited to continue the dialogue with workers around the globe about how they can transform their industries in similar ways through implementing WSR programs.” Rafaela Rodriguez, Worker-driven Social Responsibility Network (WSRN): “When worker organizations lead the creation, design and implementation of solutions, the results are truly transformative…” There is a human rights revolution underway across the world, and it all started right here in the tomato fields of Immokalee. Facing abusive crewleaders and a pervasive climate of […]

“Food, Inc. 2,” the major new documentary featuring the CIW and the Fair Food Program, is coming to a city near you! 

March 27, 2024
Food, Inc. 2 April 9 screenings

The much-anticipated sequel to the Oscar-nominated 2008 documentary “Food, Inc.” will hold a nationwide “sneak preview” at 100 theaters across the US on April 9th, ahead of its national theatrical and digital release on April 12 ! Click on this link to see which theaters near you are screening “Food, Inc. 2” on April 9! Major cities hosting screenings include: New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Miami, Chicago, and more! The film will then be available on major streaming platforms, including Amazon Prime, starting April 12.   In the works for several years after the Oscar-nominated documentary “Food, Inc.” shook consumers and […]

Civil Eats: the Fair Food Program offers the strongest, legally-binding protocols to protect workers when politicians fall short

March 22, 2024

Gerardo Reyes Chávez, CIW, in Civil Eats: “[Farmworkers in the FFP] don’t feel pressure to keep working under conditions that are placing their lives and their health at risk. And that’s fundamentally different from what happens outside of the program.” Civil Eats: “This model pioneered by FFP, known as Worker-Driven Social Responsibility, has been adopted by other industries long plagued by abuse. It inspired Bangladesh’s garment industry to form a similar partnership between brands and trade unions, protecting over 2 million factory workers with a legally binding accord.” As the US gears up for another scorching summer harvest season, experts and […]