“A #MeToo-era marvel”: Slate Magazine features Fair Food Program in “What Hollywood Can Learn From Farmworkers”…

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images, Thinkstock.

Journalist Bernice Yeung in Slate Magazine on the Fair Food Program: “…a #MeToo-era marvel that other industries are rapidly trying to adopt, a novel approach that not only creates real consequences for harassment but also prevents it from happening at all.”

On the one-year anniversary of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, Slate Magazine dedicated a feature-length article to the question: “Has [the #MeToo movement] actually led to any significant changes in workplace policies and culture”?  Drawing on the expertise of investigative journalist Bernice Yeung  (author of the recently released book, “In a Day’s Work”, Slate published “What Hollywood Can Learn From Farmworkers,” exploring the ways in which “many low-wage workers were taking novel approaches to ending workplace sexual harassment and violence long before #MeToo.”

The article is based on an excerpt from Yeung’s groundbreaking book, updated for Slate, that explains how two groups of workers — farmworkers with CIW and janitors with SEIU-USWW — have changed their own industries from the inside out, and why other industries should pay attention.  We have included just a few of the article’s highlights below, but it is absolutely worth a full read.  You can find the article in full here.

What Hollywood Can Learn From Farmworkers

Long before #MeToo, tomato pickers in Florida were rethinking how to end sexual assault in their industry—and seeing results.

… Here’s how it works: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers persuades growers to sign on to the program, which means they must abide by a strict code of conduct that includes better pay and zero tolerance for sexual harassment. In exchange, these growers are given an opportunity to sell to retailers such as Whole Foods or Taco Bell, which have also promised to only buy tomatoes from Fair Food farms. The program, which began in Florida, has expanded to operations in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey, as well as pepper and strawberry crops in Florida. Dairy workers in Vermont have also launched the Milk With Dignity Program based on the Fair Food model.

Built-in accountability for meeting Fair Food standards helps drive its success. Workers, who are regularly provided on-the-clock training related to their rights, can surface complaints through various avenues, such as a confidential complaint line and education sessions. With workers functioning as the eyes and ears of the program, the model has addressed everything from wage problems to sexual assault in the fields.

Farms are also monitored through annual audits, which are an especially critical and effective part of the program. During these site visits—some of which are announced and some of which are not—a team of inspectors meets with upper management to discuss expectations and to make sure the farm is complying with the code of conduct. The team also looks for evidence that the farm has made gains on any lapses observed from previous audits. Most importantly, inspectors interview at least half of the front-line supervisors and workers to make sure that policies are being followed. Workers, then, become a critical part of the enforcement process.

Angel García, the human resources manager from Pacific Tomato, says that the Fair Food Program creates an infrastructure that helps growers get a feel for the concerns and complaints of their workers. “There are farmers with good hearts, but they are not in the fields, and they don’t know what is happening in their fields,” he says. “Through the audit system, we take the pulse of the operation. We are not a perfect operation, but we have a third-party entity, and if they find something, we will fix it.”

The audits are not just an empty exercise. If growers or the Fair Food Standards Council confirm an incident of sexual harassment, consequences are swift and serious. For example, if physical sexual harassment by a supervisor occurs, the farm is required to fire that supervisor. If it doesn’t, the farm will be suspended from the program and no longer able to sell to the dozen-plus participating buyers, including McDonald’s and Walmart.

“When you can’t make your sales because workers are abused, that is a real issue for the company, and it highly incentivizes compliance,” says Laura Safer Espinoza, the executive director of the Fair Food Standards Council.

In the program’s seven years, 35 supervisors have been disciplined for sexual harassment, and 10 have been fired. Since 2013, two incidents of sexual harassment have been identified. The program’s most recent annual report notes that during the 2016–17 growing season, more than 70 percent of participating farms reported no incidents of sexual harassment. “Cases of sexual harassment by supervisors with any type of physical contact have been virtually eliminated,” the report says.

It is within this larger context of workplace protections that the sexual harassment and domestic violence training at Pacific Tomato in the spring of 2016 had meaning, says Marley Moynahan of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who served as a trainer that day. “If you dropped this training into a farm outside of the Fair Food Program, the workers would connect with what is happening, but the reality is that they would never exercise their rights,” she says. Because of the Fair Food Program, there are real consequences to misbehavior, and workers know they have a safe space to talk about it…

Make sure to read and share the full article over at Slate Magazine’s website!