The Alliance for Fair Food

There is, today, a human rights crisis in Florida’s fields.  Farmworkers picking tomatoes in Florida toil from dawn to dusk for sub-poverty wages at a piece rate that hasn’t changed significantly in nearly 30 years.  They do this grueling, dangerous work with no right to overtime pay, no health insurance, no sick leave, no paid vacation or pension, and no right to organize in order to improve these conditions.  The rash of modern-day slavery cases that have emerged from Florida’s fields in the past several years only underscores the severity of this crisis.

But a new day is dawning in the Florida agricultural industry.  After a four-year national consumer boycott of Taco Bell, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Yum! Brands forged an agreement that established several critical precedents for corporate supply chain accountability in the food industry.  These precedents draw a direct link for the first time between the retail food giants, on the one hand, and the farmworkers whose exploited labor puts food on this country’s tables, on the other.  Economic responsibility for farmworker poverty, supply chain transparency, and the participation of farmworkers in the protection of their own rights are three of the key principles established in the agreement.  It has laid the foundation for fundamental change in the agricultural and retail food industries.

There are those within the fast-food and agricultural industries, however, who view these important new principles as a threat and have joined together to resist their expansion throughout the Florida tomato industry.  With the help of McDonald’s, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, a grower lobby group, has formed Socially Accountable Farm Employers (SAFE).  SAFE combines a minimalist Code of Conduct with a suspect monitoring and certification process that will mislead consumers into believing that abuses in the fields have been addressed. 

It is a public relations answer to a human rights crisis that will bring no significant change to the lives of the workers whose voices were thoroughly excluded from its development and implementation. After generations of holding wages down and rebuffing worker efforts to improve their conditions through dialogue, growers supplying the retail food industry have joined forces with their corporate buyers to keep things as they have always been. McDonald’s current path threatens to undercut the wage gains won by farmworkers in the Taco Bell Boycott and to push workers back away from the table where decisions are made that affect their lives.

For far too long, most people in our society have either not known the truth about exploitation in the fields or have chosen to tolerate these abuses as an acceptable cost of doing business.  But there is another way: the creation of a food supply chain that is truly fair and ensures farmworkers’ fundamental human rights. 

Therefore, as consumers from national and international religious, human rights, student, and labor organizations we join together in this Alliance for Fair Food to counter this resistance and to advance real rights for farmworkers, in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, throughout the Florida tomato industry.  Through the sustained, creative, non-violent action of consumers, we will demand socially responsible purchasing throughout the retail food industry.  And through a genuine partnership among growers, workers, retailers and consumers, we will eliminate the market conditions that have deprived and dehumanized farmworkers for years.

We will work to further the following principles:

  • Farmworker wages must immediately be increased, and the retail food industry giants that have contributed to and profited from decades of farmworker poverty must participate in that increase.  Twenty-five years of stagnant, sub-poverty earnings is enough.
  • Farmworkers are entitled to participate as full partners in the decisions that affect their lives.  Decades of sweatshop conditions and modern-day slavery have earned farmworkers a place at the table, and those same shameful conditions should finally render indefensible any effort by growers or their food industry allies to push workers away.
  • Any industry-wide Code of Conduct must be developed with the full participation of farmworkers, must be enforced in partnership with farmworkers, and must advance real rights for farmworkers, based on universally-accepted, fundamental labor standards.

As we work together with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for fair wages and working conditions, fundamental human rights and an end to modern-day slavery in the agricultural industry, we pledge to educate and encourage people throughout our society to support the global movement for human rights and demand the full realization of human rights within the agricultural industry.

Founding Committee
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights
National Economic and Social Rights Initiative
Student/Farmworker Alliance
Interfaith Action

Individual Endorsers
Congressman John Lewis, D- GA
John Sweeney, President AFL-CIO
Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
Julian Bond, Board Chairman, NAACP
Bobby Kennedy, Jr.
Noam Chomsky, Professor, MIT
Howard Zinn, Author, A People’s History of the United States
Eric Schlosser, Author, Fast Food Nation
Paul Loeb, Author, Soul of a Citizen
Bonnie Raitt, Musician
Tom Morello, Musician, Audioslave, and formerly of Rage Against the Machine
Jackson Browne, Musician
Rev. Arnold C. Nelson Jr., President, Disciples Home Missions, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Ozomatli, Grammy Award-winning band
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland
Kerry Kennedy, Co-founder of RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights
Rory Kennedy, Film producer, Moxie Firecracker Films

Organizational Endorsers

Human Rights
Amnesty International USA
Global Rights
SOA Watch
Center for Constitutional Rights
US Human Rights Network
Corporate Ethics International
Global Exchange
Food First
National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
National Employment Law Project
Mexico Solidarity Network
Campaign for Labor Rights
Oakland Institute
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights                      

American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
American Rights at Work
Unite Union (New Zealand)
Labor Notes
Workers Solidarity Alliance
South Florida Jobs with Justice (New Zealand)

Student / Youth
United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS)
National Latina/o Law Student Association (NLLSA)
Student Labor Action Project (SLAP)
Living Wage Action Coalition (LWAC)

United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
Pax Christi USA
National Farmworker Ministry
Center of Concern
Apostolic Catholic Church
National Catholic Rural Life Conference
Agricultural Missions, Inc.
Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Fox Valley Association of the United Church of Christ – IL
Office of Peace and Justice, Diocese of Venice – Southwest Florida

Community/ Other
Family Farm Defenders
Rainforest Action Network
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
School of the Americas Watch
Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA)
Resource Center of the Americas
Ruckus Society                                               
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty – Canada
No Sweat Apparel
Florida Immigrant Coalition
Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice
East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) – San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Los Angeles Alliance for A New Economy (LAANE)
Partnership for Immigrant Leadership & Action (PILA) – San Francisco, CA
El Centro Cultural de Mexico – Santa Ana, CA

[Endorsements updated as of 03/8/06]

Religious Partners, Brigitte Gynther, Interfaith Action,, 239-986-0688
Student Partners, Sean Sellers, Student Farmworker Alliance,, 239-821-5481
Human Rights and Community Partners, RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights,, Amanda Shanor, 203-247-2195