Building a future without violence in the fields…

Supervisors at Pacific Tomato Growers participate in a newly-developed training on the prevention of domestic violence and sexual violence in the workplace. The training curriculum — the only one of its kind — is being developed jointly by representatives of the CIW, Pacific, the Fair Food Standards Council, VIDA Legal Assistance, and the national anti-violence organization, Futures without Violence.

CIW, Fair Food Program partners develop unprecedented sexual violence prevention curriculum…

In U.S. agriculture, the epidemic of sexual harassment and gender-based violence is well-documented.  In 2012, a study by Human Rights Watch, entitled “Cultivating Fear: The Vulnerability of Immigrant Farmworkers in the US to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment,” surveyed farmworker women and found that a staggering 80% of those interviewed reported having faced sexual harassment on the job.  In 2013, the award-winning PBS documentary series Frontline released a hard-hitting documentary, entitled “Rape in the Fields,” following a year-long study of sexual violence against female farmworkers from California to Florida.  And just this past September, the EEOC announced a $17 million judgment against an Immokalee-area vegetable farm, in which the farm owner’s two sons and a third supervisor were found to have “engaged in graphic acts of sexual harassment against female workers in Moreno Farms’ packaging house, including regular groping and propositioning, threatening female employees with termination if they refused the supervisors’ sexual advances, and attempting to rape, and raping, multiple female employees.”  

In that sobering context, the dramatic progress seen on Fair Food Program farms since the implementation of the program in 2011 is truly astonishing.  The FFP’s worker-driven, enforcement-focused, market-backed approach has eliminated sexual violence on participating farms, and greatly reduced the incidence of sexual harassment on the whole, providing quick and effective remedy for workers when complaints do arise.

In recognition of the FFP’s unprecedented success, the Fair Food Standards Council’s Executive Director, Judge Laura Safer Espinoza, was asked to testify before the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace earlier this summer.  After describing the FFP’s unique worker education, monitoring, and enforcement mechanisms, Judge Safer Espinoza described the reaction of the PBS Frontline investigative crew to the very different world created — by and for workers in the fields — under the Fair Food Program (you can find her testimony in its entirety here): 


… Investigators for the [PBS] Frontline program, entitled “Rape in the Fields,” interviewed very brave women who came forward across the country to tell their stories. At the end of their trip, however, they encountered a very different set of circumstances. They had arrived in Immokalee, Florida, home of the Fair Food Program (FFP), where the headline was “No Victims in these Fields, and a New Day for Human Rights in Agriculture.” In an interview on NPR, the producer stated that the FFP is unique in its “proactive policies, the participation of workers, and the economic incentives placed on anti- harassment policies.” (read Judge Safer Espinoza’s testimony in its entirety here)

Taking it to the next level…

The results of the Fair Food Program’s zero tolerance policy for sexual violence in the workplace since the Program’s implementation in 2011 have been nothing short of spectacular.  Still, however, we cannot rest until life on the job for workers in the fields is no different than that for workers in offices, factories, and retail stores across the country, and that’s why this season, the Fair Food Program is taking its leadership on this exceptionally urgent issue to a new level.  

For the past two years, CIW has been a key participant in an unprecedented collaboration among the Fair Food Standards Council, VIDA Legal Assistance, Pacific Tomato Growers and Futures Without Violence to develop culturally and linguistically specific training materials for agricultural workers and supervisors to prevent sexual violence and harassment in the workplace.  The hope is that this project will set the standard for combatting these forms of violence in the agricultural sector.

And just last week, two years of theory became practice.

CIW's Nely Rodriguez during last week's anti-sexual violence training
CIW’s Nely Rodriguez during last week’s sexual violence prevention training.

The CIW and its partners in this unique collaboration deployed the exciting new curriculum for the first time to train almost two hundred of Pacific’s key supervisors and employees — from the farm managers in Florida, Georgia and Virginia all the way to the company’s Health and Safety Committee members, who, under the FFP, monitor conditions in the workplace and meet regularly with management to suggest improvements that may mitigate potential risks.

Pacific supervisor during the training
Pacific supervisor during the training.

Supervisors and workers left the trainings armed with the tools, resources, and understanding needed to stop and prevent those forms of abuse in the workplace.  From here, the collaboration will go on to refine and finalize the curriculum, and develop tools such as a worker-scripted video, for dissemination across the Fair Food Program and beyond.  

Although only halfway through its life cycle, this project truly embodies the collaborative spirit of the Fair Food Program as well as its singular capacity for addressing and preventing workplace abuse.

After seeing the results of last week’s first-ever training with the new curriculum, we are truly thrilled about how far the project has come already.  We look forward to the growing success of this exciting collaboration with Pacific, FFSC, VIDA and Futures Without Violence, and we promise to keep you updated as the project continues to unfold!