The Nation, Ozy weigh in on the Fair Food Program!

A farmworker harvesting grape tomatoes on a Fair Food Program farm.

“The Coalition’s work has implications for what we eat, how we define sustainability and who should be accountable for workplace abuse…”

The news out of Immokalee of last week’s groundbreaking agreement with Walmart — an agreement that not only added Walmart’s unequaled market power to the market-driven Fair Food Program, but also promised the expansion of the Program outside of Florida and into crops other than tomatoes — was so big that it eclipsed many other happenings in the always vibrant Fair Food Movement.  Among those things were two high profile articles on the Fair Food Program, one from the cutting-edge digital magazine, OZY, the other from long-time CIW observer Greg Kaufmann at the Nation.  We thought that — before the next big news hits the airwaves tomorrow… — we would drag these great stories out of the shadows of last week’s headlines and share them with you today.  

So, enjoy the following excerpts now, and check back tomorrow for another huge announcement from the front in the Campaign for Fair Food!

A Penny a Pound and So Much More
Jan. 16, 2014, OZY


There’s no question that this century has seen rampant foodieism. Consumers petition against pink slime and GMOs. Menus wax poetic about purveyors. We demand that our hens roam free and our cows be slaughtered with care.

Lost in the frenzy: the 1.4 million people who pick and pack produce in America’s fields. They’re vulnerable to all kinds of abuse, including outright slavery, and typically earn a pittance. Mostly, these workers are beyond the purview of elite “sustainability” concerns. Oddly, the foodie movement pays greater attention to animal welfare than to farmworker welfare. Have you ever checked whether the person who picked that organic arugula was paid a fair wage?

Probably not. In part because it’s hard to find out.

Happily, if slowly, this is changing, mostly because of a tomato-picker organization in a dinky town in southwest Florida. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has about 4,500 members, many of whom don’t speak English. But in recent years, the Coalition has forced corporate megaliths like McDonald’s, Burger King and Whole Foods to change how they do business. So far, some 11 companies have joined its Fair Food Program. It provides basic protections Florida tomato pickers never had, including a minimum wage and mechanisms to report and investigate abuse.

This isn’t just Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers 2.0, and it’s not just a feel-good, David-and-Goliath tale, either. The Coalition’s work has implications for what we eat, how we define sustainability and who should be accountable for workplace abuse. The Fair Food Program covers tomatoes and the 90,000 or so Florida workers who pick them, but the Coalition’s model could affect the lives of farmworkers around the country […]

“It’s one of the most cutting-edge human rights organizations in the country,” says Catherine Albisa, a lawyer who directs the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative. Her organization has worked with the Coalition for 10 years. “I think their approach is the only one that has promise right now.”  […]

CIW conducting a "Know Your Rights" education sessions under the Fair Food Program (Fall 2013)
CIW conducting a “Know Your Rights” education sessions under the Fair Food Program (Fall 2013)

[…] “The sustainability movement has focused for so long on small and local, which is great — but it leaves out the farmworkers,” says Ganzler. Part of the reason is that consumers have little insight into worker conditions. There’s no way to know whether the person who picked your strawberries was paid fairly, exposed to toxic pesticides or had recourse in cases of harassment. “Many supply chains have been intentionally opaque,” she says. “The tactic of going right to the ultimate purchaser and exposing the ills of the supply chain is very powerful, and that’s what CIW has done.”

Could the Coalition’s strategy apply to other sectors, like garments assembled abroad or electronics made in China? ”It’s not impossible,” Reyes-Chavez says, “but a lot of pressure from different angles needs to be in place, and everyone has to work together, synchronized, like a watch.” Most important, he says, is that the movement be worker driven. “In this case, the watchmaker was the affected community: ourselves.”

How to Build an Anti-Poverty Movement, From the Grassroots Up
Jan. 16, 2014, the Nation


Ten groups that are laying the foundation for an economic justice revival.

With more than 46 million people living below the poverty line, struggling to survive on $19,530 or less for a family of three, and with more than one in three Americans living on less than twice that amount, scrimping to pay for basics, this country will require a broad-based movement to reverse the decades of failed national imagination. […]

[…] 1. Coalition of Immokalee Workers: If you want to see what is possible through grassroots organizing by those who are most affected by poverty—or what it means to set a seemingly unreachable goal and persevere, or understand your opposition and find new ways to challenge it—look no further than the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

When the CIW was founded in 1993, it was as a small group of tomato farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida, trying to end a twenty-year decline in their poverty wages. Who is historically more powerless than farmworkers? Yet today, most major buyers of Florida tomatoes have signed agreements with the CIW to pay an extra penny per pound for tomatoes. These agreements have resulted in over $11 million in additional earnings for the workers since January 2011.

CIW signs an agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (2010), leading to the creation of the Fair Food Program
CIW signs an agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (2010), leading to the creation of the Fair Food Program

In addition, through its Fair Food Program, the CIW has persuaded corporate buyers to purchase tomatoes only from growers who sign a strict code of conduct that includes zero tolerance for forced labor or sexual assault. As a result, the majority of growers (those accounting for 90 percent of the tomato industry’s $650 million in revenue) have agreed to that code. If major violations occur but don’t get corrected—and there’s a twenty-four-hour hotline for worker complaints—corporations will not buy from those growers.

The Fair Food Program serves as a new model of social responsibility, and its influence is clear in the recently signed agreement between retailers and factory owners in the Bangladesh garment industry. Follow the CIW not only to get involved with farmworkers but for a sense of what can be achieved through strategic, fearless organizing.

That’s not all that’s in store in the Campaign for Fair Food! With the wind at our back after an amazing week, we now look forward to the spring, which holds nothing but action for those companies who stubbornly remain stuck on the wrong side of history.  For those companies, it’s going to be a busy few months ahead…