TED Ideas lifts up Fair Food Program, Worker-driven Social Responsibility as transformative human rights model!

TED Ideas: “Many farmworkers in the US receive inadequate wages and experience harassment, violence and even sexual assault. But thanks to the Fair Food Program, which signs up big companies like McDonald’s and Taco Bell, conditions in the tomato fields in several states have been reformed. Here’s how it works — and how you can do your part…”

Last February, CIW’s Gerardo Reyes and Greg Asbed sat together on the TEDMED stage and delivered a wide-ranging, 18-minute talk on a movement and a model “with the potential to spark a 21st century human rights revolution”: The Fair Food movement and the burgeoning Worker-driven Social Responsibility model. And now, in another ringing endorsement of the power of that model, TED Ideas – the highly-curated news hub that digs deeper into the cream of the crop from the TED universe – is bringing that hopeful message to millions of new viewers.

Sitting down again with the CIW’s Reyes and Asbed for interviews to probe further into the Fair Food Program’s groundbreaking mechanisms and unique success for their readers, the curators at TED Ideas published an excellent new article that builds smartly on the original TEDMED talk.  The article even goes beyond the scope of the original talk, digging into the current campaign to bring fast-food giant Wendy’s into the Fair Food fold:

… The subject of boycotts, Wendy’s has taken a circuitous route when it comes to their tomato supply. “They actually were buying from Florida before the FFP was implemented in 2011,” says Asbed. “They continued to buy from Florida for a year or two after that and then told the growers they were leaving Florida and going to Mexico… They’ve come back to the US, which is a good half-step, but they still refuse to join the program and they’re working with growers who are outside of the program.”

When asked for comment, Wendy’s spokesperson Heidi Schauer said, “Wendy’s does not believe that joining the CIW’s program is the only way to act responsibly, and the company takes pride in long-term relationships with industry-leading suppliers who share a commitment to quality, integrity and ethics. In addition to having a Supplier Code of Conduct that includes requirements related to human rights and labor practices, Wendy’s conducts its own regular Quality Assurance audits at the farms, plants, facilities and other locations of all their suppliers.”

However, the Wendy’s Supplier Code of Conduct uses fairly slippery language when it comes to safe working conditions, fair wages, and the absence of discrimination and harassment — these are listed only as expectations, not requirements.

Schauer also added that Wendy’s now sources tomatoes from greenhouse farms in North America, which provide “safer, indoor working conditions.”

That, says Asbed, is not true across the board. “First, abuses in greenhouses — from sexual harassment to forced labor — are already well documented. But even if one were to accept the idea that conditions in greenhouse suppliers’ operations were free of abuse, that’s not a reason to keep the FFP out. Rather, it makes opening its suppliers’ farms up to the scrutiny of the FFP’s monitoring and enforcement mechanisms something of a “no-brainer”.”

He explains, “If the audits should show that Wendy’s is right about conditions there, the growers would obtain the most-respected certification in the US agricultural industry today, and the campaign against Wendy’s will end. Everyone would win… They just need to do what every other major fast-food company has done years ago and join the program and stop drawing an advantage against their competitors by refusing to join the FFP…”

The article goes on to draw a critical conclusion for TED Idea’s millions of readers:

Much of the FFP’s power comes down to consumers and farmworkers joining forces. Consumer support is needed to create the pressure on large companies, and it’s up to us to make thoughtful choices when we buy our food.

Once again, the Fair Food Program has captured the imagination of minds hungry for innovation at a time when our world’s gravest problems only seem to be getting worse, and proven solutions are in short supply.  And as we enter 2020, the prospect of expanding this transformative model to millions more workers around the U.S. and the globe, and the promise of other innovative solutions highlighted in the TED universe, provide much-needed hope.  We are grateful for the partnership of the TED team, and encourage everyone in the Fair Food Nation to spread the TED Ideas article far and wide (“Are the workers behind your food treated fairly? How one innovative program is helping improve conditions,” TED Ideas).