Shining a rotten apple:

Two farms that used workers held against their will in the Navarrete slavery case were certified as “socially accountable” by the grower-controlled monitoring agency called “SAFE” (Socially Accountable Farm Employers)

When news of Florida’s latest slavery prosecution hit the headlines last December, one crucial bit of information went largely overlooked.

The paragraph below, tucked into the end of the Ft. Myers News Press story from December 20th entitled “Family sentenced for slavery,” touched on an aspect of the story that ultimately got lost in the swirl of sordid facts around the Navarretes case:

“The Navarretes took their crews to work on farms owned by some of the state’s major tomato producers: Immokalee-based Six L’s and Pacific Tomato Growers in Palmetto. Both tomato growers are part of the Socially Accountable Farm Employers (SAFE) program, designed to prevent labor abuses.” (emphasis added)

What exactly is “SAFE”?

SAFE is the product of a particularly unseemly union, the coming together of Florida’s plantation-scale tomato growers and the multi-billion dollar companies that buy their produce in an effort aimed at blunting the growing Campaign for Fair Food.

The two joined forces in 2005 in the wake of the successful Taco Bell boycott. An article in the Lakeland Ledger from the early days of SAFE — entitled “Growers Seeking SAFE Haven: Group hopes to set practices for farmworkers, but some say it’s skirting issue” – describes the birth of a bad idea:

WASHINGTON — Jay Taylor recalls the seeds being sown last spring in a tomato packinghouse in Palmetto, where members of the restaurant industry and Florida agriculture met to discuss an escalating labor war… read more…