“As an investigator, I have seen firsthand that this program works, that it changes people’s lives…”

Fair Food Standards Council staff responding to the FFP’s 24/7 trilingual complaint line.

As the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear back in March, the Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC), the independent monitoring body that has meticulously overseen the implementation of the Fair Food Program for more than a decade, braced for impact. The pandemic had managed to paralyze the efforts of almost every government agency tasked with enforcing labor rights in workplaces across the country. Would FFSC face the same fate? 

Not even close.  In fact, quite the opposite happened.  Instead of putting the complaint line on hold, or abandoning its audits, the FFSC kept its doors open, analyzed the new landscape, and adapted its procedures accordingly.  And the results were stunning: FFSC staff saw its work become more essential than ever. This past season, the FFSC received 379 total complaints, the second-highest number of its nine seasons in operation, representing a 45% increase over last year’s Season 8 numbers.

In this unprecedented season of the pandemic, the team was running not just a hotline, but a lifeline for farmworkers.  And by drawing on deep reserves of creativity and resolve — not to mention a decade of unparalleled experience — the FFSC staff rose to challenge. 

Now with the Florida harvest season in full swing, you can help expand the protections of the Fair Food Program and the crucial monitoring work of the FFSC. Click here to donate!

Human rights monitor Derek Brinks, who spends each day carefully managing data for the FFSC, said “We’re really encouraged by these higher numbers. Obviously, we want to see the severity of complaints decreasing year over year, but getting steady complaints to the hotline means the program is working.”

While other field-based organizations have seen their work grind to a halt this year, FFSC pushed forward.  Beyond investigating and resolving a near record number of complaints, FFSC staff carried out audits across six states (FL, GA, NJ, SC, TN, VA) between June and December, conducting an impressive 630 worker interviews, with some socially-distanced in person and most fully virtual.  The FFSC also played a key role in putting an astonishing $33,600 in CARES Act stimulus checks back into the hands of essential workers who were owed these funds but had been, for a variety of reasons, unable to recover them.  Further, the Fair Food Program’s dedicated monitoring body not only kept up with its already impressive workload despite the challenges of the pandemic this season, it actually expanded its scope, with FFSC staff carrying out crucial entry audits in a new state (Tennessee, welcoming Smoky Mountain Family Farms into the Fair Food Program) and an new crop (bringing Bloomia, the largest cut flower producer on the East Coast, into the FFP fold).

And as if all that weren’t enough, the FFSC took on a critical, new task this season: ensuring compliance with the groundbreaking COVID-19 protocols developed by the Fair Food Program in partnership with participating growers.  These protocols are groundbreaking not because they lay out protections for workers on paper, but because the FFSC ensures those protections go from paper to reality, underscoring the defining ethos of the Fair Food Program: Standards without enforcement are meaningless.

That simple creed is what puts the Fair Food Program in a class of its own.  By putting the hard work of enforcement first, this pioneering model of Worker-driven Social Responsibility, backed by the full power of the FFSC, creates a world where workers can actually count on protections and can see real consequences when rules are violated.  And not just rules that prevent COVID-19, but sexual assault, wage theft, and any other number of human rights violations that were simply part of the daily fabric of farm labor before the Program was launched in 2011. 

We can’t stop now. We need your help to grow the Fair Food Program – and bring these protections to even more states and industries.

Another human rights monitor, Ari Rico, noted that to reach its full potential, the Fair Food Program, and enforcement by the FFSC, must continue to expand:

“When I think about the future, my hope is to see all the protections of the Fair Food Program reach other crops and other states.  When a worker from a non-FFP farm calls, it’s really heartbreaking. We simply don’t have the power to achieve those same results and working conditions that they had when they were covered by the Program. It’s everything from the little things, like a clean bathroom, to fundamental protections like the right to work free from sexual harassment. As an investigator, I have seen firsthand that this program works, that it changes people’s lives.”

By donating today, you’re helping us build our capacity to reach new farms and develop new partnerships and agreements, and most importantly, to guarantee that protections are not just written in booklets or reports, but are made real on the ground, every day, 24 hours a day.

Click here to support the Fair Food Program today.