International labor law expert: “The Fair Food Program is substantially more successful than other corporate compliance programmes”…

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-10_fotorNew textbook on ethical labor standards for migrant workers devotes chapter to the CIW’s Fair Food Program!

International labor law expert Professor James Brudney calls Fair Food Program “remarkably successful model” that “offers distinctive lessons for labour relations in global corporate supply chains.”

In an exciting new volume of academic research (now available online) on the question of whether temporary migrant labor programs “can be ethical, equitable and efficacious and so deliver decent work for workers,” Fordham University Professor of Law James Brudney has contributed a rigorously-researched chapter on the structure, function, and extraordinary success of the CIW’s Fair Food Program.  His chapter, entitled “Decent Labour Standards in Corporate Supply Chains: The Immokalee Workers Model,” represents the most comprehensive academic analysis to date of the CIW’s worker-driven, market-enforced approach to protecting human rights in corporate supply chains, and it is a must-read.   

Following a brief but cogent analysis of the shortcomings, and ultimate failure, of the two dominant paradigms for social responsibility today — national government enforcement of ILO standards, on the one hand, and private codes of social responsibility monitored for corporations by third party auditing organizations, on the other — Prof. Brudney takes a detailed look at the roots, mechanisms, and results of the CIW’s Fair Food Program.  His examination of the enforcement mechanism behind the FFP’s success is both succinct:

FFSC monitoring and enforcement are effective because there is a real hammer: loss of market share imposed by the brands through their separate agreements with CIW.  

And insightful:

When—as occurs in the great majority of instances—an audit discloses violations warranting a corrective action plan, remediation is a relatively rapid process. Growers must comply with the code or they will lose the ability to sell their tomatoes to buyers in the FFP. This threat of lost business has been a substantial incentive for compliance even though the FFP encompasses a relatively small percentage of all purchases of Florida tomatoes. Importantly, the FFP’s market-based effectiveness has not required that participating brands (McDonald’s, Sodexo, Walmart et al) collectively exercise control over a majority of sales from one or more Florida tomato growers. Instead, these brands simply must have control over enough of the market so that a majority of individual suppliers will not want to lose so large a proportion of their business. This in turn suggests that a model relying on market consequences can effect significant change in labour conditions by channelling the efforts of a relatively low number of buyers.

Summarizing, he writes:

[The Fair Food Program’s] framework of private labour standards agreements negotiated with leading food retail brands and imposing severe market consequences on suppliers who fail to comply—based on extensive annual audits and an omnipresent complaint resolution system in which workers play pivotal roles—offers distinctive lessons for labour relations in global corporate supply chains.

And concludes:

The Fair Food Program is substantially more successful than other corporate compliance programmes in the labour standards area.

FFPPoster_GRNFINAL_600He then ends his chapter with a quick analysis of the challenges and opportunities involved in the replication of the CIW’s model in corporate supply chains around the world — a prospect that holds out hope for worker-driven, market-based protections for millions of low-wage workers beyond the fields, in industries ranging from textiles to electronics.  Here is his conclusion:

What CIW essentially concluded with respect to tomato growers may be seen as applicable to garment, footwear or electronics suppliers. Despite only a modest level of control over most production facilities in their supply chains, Nike, Adidas or Apple regularly insist on certain levels of quality, price and timing from their suppliers, and terminate them for failing to meet those levels. Leading brands arguably can add wage premiums and industry-specific labour protections to their negotiated deals on the same basis.

Professor Brudney’s chapter is an excellent piece of research and analysis and should be required reading for everyone from decision-makers in corporate board rooms to students of social change — and perhaps most of all, to consumers looking to better understand the complex landscape of corporate social responsibility and the claims made by brands hoping to attract consumers looking for ethically-sourced goods.  Though the chapter is only available by purchasing the complete text book today, as the book was published just last month, we will make the chapter available on this site if and when it becomes available as a stand-alone document.