CIW Education team wraps up second summer of Fair Food Program education beyond Florida…


Nearly 1,000 tomato harvesters trained as frontline monitors of their own rights under the Fair Food Program in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey… 

Following June’s worker-to-worker education trip to Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, the CIW education team continued its trek north and wrapped up 2016’s northern education season this month with a tour of tomato farms in Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey, where they trained hundreds of new workers on their rights under the Fair Food Code of Conduct.

Consolidating the expansion of the Program’s human rights protections into northern states — a process that began one year ago — is no small feat.  In the first installment of the past week’s two-part series on the enforcement imperative at the heart of the Worker-driven Social Responsibility model, the very first of the essential ingredients listed was, of course, worker education:

If workers are not aware of their rights and responsibilities (whether provided by law or a code of standards), they cannot be active participants in protecting those rights… worker education is not only essential to gaining real time insight into workplace conditions, it creates an extremely economical multiplier that effectively deputizes tens of thousands of workers as frontline monitors of their own rights.

This remains as true in this, the fifth season of the Fair Food Program, as it was in the first — because deep, abiding change does not occur overnight, and does not continue to grow without constant nourishment.  This year, as the year before, the tomato harvesters receiving “Know Your Rights” training up and down the East Coast were a mix of Florida-based Fair Food veterans, now with years of monitoring the Code of Conduct under their belts, locally-based crews who rotate in for the short summer harvest, who were hearing the education session for a second summer, and brand-new guest workers, working on temporary visas and visiting U.S. fields for the first time.  And without exception, in longtime as well as brand-new crews, workers quietly listened, asked questions, and spoke up about their concerns as well as their hopes while the CIW staff extolled workers’ human rights under the Program.


Once again, we bring you just a few of the raw reflections and questions that emerged from the conversations CIW members held with workers in the northern states — an illuminating window into what real, worker-driven change feels like, from the ground up:

Working Environment:  “Before, I never wanted to work in the fields.  The way other people would talk to you, the relationship between the workers and the company, it was all very bad.  The industry had a bad name.  Now, I have been at this company for the past two years, and it has been a very good experience, I haven’t had any issues with anyone, we all work calmly.”


Health and Safety:  “… Conditions aren’t like before.  Before, if you wanted to take a drink of water, you would have to do it secretly.  Before, there were no water, shade or breaks.  Now I can go to the bus, drink some Gatorade and no one can reprimand me for doing so. “

Complaint Mechanism:  “All of these rights are very, very important… If I have a problem with the company or with my boss, it is good to know there is someone to go to, someone who can help solve the problem.”

To conclude, there is one final anecdote we would like to share.  In the very last session of this month’s trip up north, one female worker who had been quiet for much of the training raised her hand and asked, “But will you really take our words seriously?  Will you follow-up?”  

In response to the her question, the education team members spoke of the Fair Food Program’s 24/7 complaint line, the swift investigation process that follows a report, and most importantly, the market consequences that form the backbone of the Code of Conduct.  Satisfied, the worker nodded in approval and said that, in that case, she did indeed have a complaint to share, and her complaint became one of the more than 1,400 complaints that have been lodged, investigated, and resolved since the launch of the Program in 2011. 

This was probably not the first time this worker had heard that she had rights in the workplace.  It was probably not the first time that someone had told her that she could call a phone number if there was a problem, that she should she go home each day as healthy as when she arrived at work, that she should not face discrimination or abuse on a daily basis.  But, it was perhaps the first time that she walked away from the conversation with the hope that her rights would actually be protected, in real life as well as on paper.