COVID-19 RESPONSE: Take action to protect farmworkers in Immokalee!


Check out highlights from a remarkable conversation on the groundbreaking, 10-year study detailing the failure of the dominant Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) model and lifting up the Fair Food Program as the way forward for protecting human rights in corporate supply chains… 

Last week, we reported on the release of an unprecedented new study that is shaking up the world of business and human rights.  The report, titled “Not Fit for Purpose: The Grand Experiment of Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives in Corporate Accountability, Human Rights, and Global Governance,” was the academic equivalent of the children’s tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – a thoroughgoing deconstruction of the failed, decades-long experiment in corporate-led human rights protections known as the “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) model.  Here is the summary of last week’s post:


An extraordinary report released last week — the product of a decade of study and analysis of 40 international standard-setting programs, conducted by the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity (“MSI Integrity”)— concluded that the Multi-stakeholder Initiative model, the dominant paradigm for corporate social responsibility since the 1990s, has resoundingly failed at its primary objective: protecting human rights in global supply chains.  To meet the still urgent need for effective human rights protections, the report calls for approaches that situate workers and communities “at the center of decision-making” and that endow those “rights holders” with real power to enforce their own rights.  The study points to the Fair Food Program in the food industry, and the Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) model more broadly, as leading examples of proven — and demonstrably superior — alternatives to the failed MSI model.

The report was published by MSI Integrity, a non-profit organization incubated a decade ago at Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and “dedicated to understanding the human rights impact and value of voluntary multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) that address business and human rights.”  The study looked at a wide range of MSIs in multiple sectors — including the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), Fair Trade International, and the Rainforest Alliance in the food industry — and concluded that their lack of effective mechanisms “to center the needs, desires, or voices of rights holders,” and failure to address “the power imbalances that drive abuse,” prevented the voluntary, corporate-led social responsibility programs from realizing their claims of effective human rights protection.   Among other specific deficits, the study found serious shortcomings in the audit processes of the MSIs investigated, a lack of effective grievance mechanisms and of meaningful consequences for violations, as well as the failure to make public the suspension of suppliers determined to be out of compliance.

In other words, the study concluded that all social responsibility programs are not created equal — that there are real differences between the dominant, corporate-led paradigm of social responsibility and the WSR model, differences not only of philosophy and of mechanisms, but of outcomes, as well.  Indeed, MSI Integrity’s groundbreaking research confirms what tens of thousands of farmworkers, and counting, know from lived experience: The Fair Food Program’s unique mix of worker-driven monitoring mechanisms and market consequences for human rights violations is, in fact, more effective than other competing programs at addressing, and ending, long-standing abuses in corporate supply chains.

This week, Harvard University hosted a virtual conversation among the Executive Director of MSI Integrity (the Harvard Law School-incubated non-profit that carried out the study over the past decade and authored the report), the CIW’s Gerardo Reyes Chavez, and representatives of two other successful alternatives to the CSR model, Equal Exchange and the Obran Cooperative.  The webinar was titled “Beyond Business-as-Usual: Lessons from workers, communities and the failed experiment of multi-stakeholder initiatives,” and you can check out highlights from the conversation in the video at the top of this post, or watch the webinar in its entirety here.

The MSI Integrity study marks what should be a pivotal moment in the thirty-year history of efforts to protect human rights in global supply chains, a long-overdue reckoning of the abysmal failure of the dominant model promoted by corporations and a moment for a true paradigm shift in approach, one that places workers and communities themselves not just at the table, but at the head of the table, in efforts to protect their own rights.  We will continue to follow and report on the impact of this groundbreaking study in the months ahead.




Fair Food Program expansion marches on, even in these difficult times!

July 31, 2020

Award-winning Fair Food Program breaks ground in Tennessee alongside longtime partner Sunripe Certified Brands and new FFP Participating Grower, Smoky Mountain Family Farms… Even in these dark and difficult times, the Fair Food Program continues to inspire and transform lives for the better. First came the publication last week of an unprecedented, decade-long study carried out by MSI Integrity, the Harvard University-incubated project that undertook an in-depth examination of 40 of the world’s best-known social responsibility certification programs.  In a report titled “Not Fit for Purpose,” MSI Integrity concluded that traditional corporate social responsibility schemes – including such well known […]

New study confirms: All social responsibility programs NOT created equal!

July 21, 2020

10-year, independent study by NGO MSI Integrity finds corporate-led, Multi-stakeholder Initiative (MSI) model for social responsibility “should not be relied upon for the protection of human rights”; Study concludes: “MSIs are not effective tools for holding corporations accountable for abuses, protecting rights holders against human rights violations, or providing survivors and victims with access to remedy”; Study cites Fair Food Program, Worker-driven Social Responsibility model as leading examples of new “gold standard,” with effective mechanisms for “empowering rights holders to know and exercise their rights”… PLEASE SHARE: A decade of research from @MSIIntegrity finds systemic failures across 40 multi-stakeholder initiatives, […]

At “the epicenter of the epicenter”…

July 6, 2020

CIW’s Gerardo Reyes on MSNBC “Into America” podcast: “The people that place the food on the table of every family deserve better.” Month of June sees national media attention turn to the disaster unfolding in CIW’s backyard, as COVID-19 cases skyrocket in Immokalee, rest of Florida… For people living in Immokalee, the month of June was like no other in living memory.  As the deadly coronavirus pandemic tightened its grip on the farmworker community, and increased testing — finally — revealed the depth and breadth of the virus’s reach, it became painfully clear that life in this small agricultural community would […]

Governor DeSantis on farmworkers: “You don’t want those folks mixing with the general public”…

June 22, 2020

Faced with skyrocketing infection rates and questions regarding his decision to re-open the state despite alarming data trends, Florida Governor DeSantis chooses division over compassion, scapegoating over science… Governor blames “overwhelmingly Hispanic” farmworkers, and crowded living and working conditions beyond their control, for sharp rise in new COVID-19 cases, rather than ask if his own actions — and inaction — might have contributed to the dramatic increase in suffering and death among farmworkers in his state;   CIW’s Silvia Perez: “Our community is very small so when a worker loses their life, the community notices and comes together to raise […]

Collier County Health Department announces new plans for ongoing, free, community-wide COVID-19 testing in Immokalee starting this weekend!

May 29, 2020 WBBH News for Fort Myers, Cape Coral & Naples, Florida In response to dangerous spike of COVID-19 cases in Immokalee, Collier County Department of Health announces plans to partner with Doctors Without Borders and local clinic to provide urgently-needed testing!…  Dr. Seth Holmes on NBC2: “Florida is one of the main agricultural producers for the whole country, so if we can protect our farmworkers, we’re also protecting our food system.“ At the beginning of May, nearly two months into the coronavirus pandemic, there were only 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Immokalee.  Today, less than a month later, there […]

As Wendy’s greenhouse defense crumbles, allies look to hold company accountable at today’s annual shareholder meeting…

May 27, 2020

  America’s 2.5 million farmworkers are among the groups most at risk of contracting the coronavirus. @RKahnTroster of @truahrabbis #AsksTheCEO of @Wendys – Did it purchase tomatoes from Green Empire Farm – location of a major Covid-19 outbreak? @ciw — ICCR (@ICCRonline) May 22, 2020 Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster to Wendy’s: “Given the life-or-death stakes of unsafe working conditions under COVID-19, how can Wendy’s justify its continued failure to join the Fair Food Program?” Last week, we posted a reflection on the news of a massive COVID-19 outbreak at a greenhouse in upstate New York owned by Mastronardi Produce, one of the […]

As COVID-19 cases increase nearly tenfold in two weeks in Immokalee, Doctors Without Borders turns to the press for tests, resources…

May 20, 2020

Doctors Without Borders to NPR: We need “more access to tests that we can use so the persons who are positive, their contacts could get tested, so we can quell this outbreak.” After weeks of anxiety, it appears that the novel coronavirus has established a foothold in Immokalee.  Just last month, before state and local authorities agreed to implement three days of mass COVID-19 testing in Immokalee, the number of positive tests reported in the farmworker town hovered for several weeks in the 20-30s, creating the impression of a vulnerable community miraculously spared by the deadly virus.  Then, last week, […]

“The eyes of Florida are on [Gov.] DeSantis to protect the health and safety of the state’s farmworker communities…”

May 11, 2020

One week ago, we posted our last update from the battle to blunt the impact of the novel coronavirus here in Immokalee with the title “COVID-19 testing is underway in Immokalee!”  Finally – after more than a month of delay, nearly 40,000 signatures on a petition to Florida’s elected officials, multiple national news stories, and countless calls to Governor DeSantis – local health officials agreed to organize mass testing in Immokalee.  Soon, the farmworker community would have the data it needs to more effectively plan and lead the fight to protect itself from this deadly virus. Except “soon” is, apparently, […]

COVID-19 testing underway in Immokalee!

May 5, 2020

Hundreds of Immokalee residents walk, bike, and drive to mass testing site after governor, local health officials respond to growing call for support… Department of Health spokesperson: “We have heard the needs of Immokalee.  We understand the unique needs.” 3 times more people tested on first day alone than during entire month of April… After more than a month of calls to the governor, nearly 40,000 petition signatures, and countless national media stories, the pleas of Immokalee’s farmworker community for vital aid in the fight against the coronavirus are starting to be heard.  State and local health officials organized a […]

Persistence pays off: Governor DeSantis announces free, community-wide testing to begin in Immokalee this week!

May 1, 2020

Governor Ron DeSantis, during an hour-long briefing on reopening the Florida economy on Wednesday, announces new testing sites targeting “under-served” communities across Florida, making special mention of Immokalee. Promising new public/private collaboration starting to take shape in Immokalee to address COVID-19 crisis, giving vulnerable farmworker community new hope with aggressive, comprehensive defense strategy; Collaboration among state and county agencies, Nobel Prize-winning Doctors Without Borders, and CIW to include free testing for symptomatic and non-symptomatic alike, contact tracing, and alternative housing for those who test positive and cannot self-isolate at home; Time remains the enemy, however, as the number of confirmed […]