Labor expert: “There’s no reason this model can’t work across the United States…”

CREDIT: Christian Science Monitor

“A SHIFT IN THOUGHT: Florida’s tomato pickers took on some of the country’s biggest retailers and fast-food chains – and won, transforming working conditions in the tomato fields. Now they and their allies are trying to take the fight to new fields and new industries.”  Christian Science Monitor article on CIW’s Worker-driven Social Responsibility model

In two days, workers from Immokalee and their allies will pack up piles of protest art and provisions for two weeks on the road as they head out on the big Return to Human Rights Tour.  Along the way they will stop in over a dozen cities, from Gainesville to Columbus, where they will be met by allies for loud and colorful protests outside of Wendy’s restaurants, calling on the fast-food giant to respect farmworkers’ rights in its supply chain by joining the Fair Food Program.

It was with the description of just such a recent protest that the Christian Science Monitor began a deep and wide-ranging analysis of the CIW’s Fair Food Program and the exciting new paradigm for real human rights protection in corporate supply chains known as Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) to which it gave rise.  In an article published last week entitled “Tomato pickers win higher pay. Can other workers use their strategy?,” Richard Mertens of the Christian Science Monitor wrote:

— On a bright Sunday morning, about two dozen tomato pickers from this dusty south Florida farming town pile into white vans and drive a half hour to Naples, a wealthy coastal city of palm trees, art galleries, and waterfront mansions. They pull up at a Wendy’s on US 41, a busy six-lane thoroughfare, and for the next hour, joined by local supporters, march up and down the sidewalk, chanting slogans and brandishing signs denouncing the fast-food chain. A Naples television crew films them while motorists stare, a few honking or flashing a thumbs-up as they pass.

Tactics like this protest outside Wendy’s, repeated in cities across the country, have helped make the Coalition of Immokalee Workers one of the most successful worker organizations in the country. By applying pressure to corporations at the top of the supply chain, the big retailers and fast-food chains that buy tomatoes, the CIW has helped tens of thousands of mostly Hispanic immigrant workers who pick the bulk of the nation’s winter tomato crop. It has lifted wages, improved working conditions, and put an end to widespread sexual harassment, forced labor, and other abuses that made the Florida tomato fields notorious even by the harsh standards of American farm labor.

“They have transformed the situation in the fields,” says Susan Marquis, dean of the Frederick S. Pardee RAND Graduate School, who is writing a book about the tomato pickers. “It’s an inspiring story.”… read more

It is an excellent article that takes the reader on a tour of the communities where the WSR model is being applied beyond the boundaries of the Fair Food Program — from the dairy farms of Vermont and the construction sites of Austin, Texas, here in the US, to the sweatshops of Bangladesh on the international stage.  In the passage examining the new Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the reporter speaks with one of the principal architects of the 2013 agreement that covers over 1,500 factories and more than 2 million workers:

The tomato pickers “made a tremendous contribution to this whole approach,” says Scott Nova, executive director of the nonprofit Workers Rights Consortium and one of the architects of the Accord. In particular, he says, the CIW showed that any agreement must take industry economics into account.

The article also consults multiple labor law and human rights experts for their opinions of the model and its potential, and even takes a look at what lies just over the immediate horizon, noting:

… many people have turned to the tomato pickers for help and advice – from pickers in Morocco, planners of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and European Union officials worried about slavery in European supply chains.  

Take a moment to read the article in its entirety, which you can find here.  It’s a long one, but definitely worth the time, as it’s rare to find such smart, in-depth coverage in today’s media landscape. 

And don’t forget, your chance to make your voice heard in this historic movement for verifiable, worker-driven human rights protections in corporate supply chains is coming up in just a matter of days!  Join us as we hit the road this week for the Return to Human Rights Tour!

See you in the streets!