Summer Roundup: 6 Stories You May Have Missed

Members of the CIW education team in action in Georgia last month.


Today we’re catching up with six recent stories featuring CIW and the Fair Food Program. Read (and listen) on!


The CEO Who Wants Us to Care More About the Humanity Behind Our Food

New FFP partner Sara Polon (Soupergirl) had a spicy interview in cutting-edge digital publication Modern Farmer (who, by the way, include this relevant gem in their “About Us” statement: “Modern Farmer understands that a tomato is never just a tomato—it’s also a political, and deeply personal, statement about who we want to be and the world we hope to live in.” We couldn’t agree more).  Moving on, here’s just one of several great exchanges from the interview: 

“MF: Even if the costs jump just half a penny per pound, if you are buying at the kind of volume that Campbells does, that’s a lot. Someone is going to crunch those numbers.

SP: Absolutely. But also, I would counter that every company now has environmental, social and governance (ESG) departments. They have sustainability offices. And they all have budgets. So, you either put your money where your mouths are or you shut down those offices. Because if this office is made aware of modern-day slavery in their supply chain and chooses to ignore it, shame on them.

And look, you and I both know that major corporations are experiencing record profits. And if I can absorb the cost, how can they not? I don’t buy it.”


In These Times: The Creative Methods Workers Are Using to Stop Bosses’ Abuse

Brittany Scott from Partners for Dignity and Rights penned an article for In These Times that made the case for WSR as a powerful tool for ensuring workers’ rights, particularly in industries where unions are out of reach. An extended excerpt: 

For workers at the bottom of supply chains, ​Worker-driven Social Responsibility” or ​WSR” agreements, are another valuable tool for protecting workers from abuses when state enforcement systems fail. WSR agreements are legally-binding agreements with brands and retailers at the top of supply chains. In the U.S., workers in agriculture have used the model to secure basic, follow-the-law rights across an industry, including from the illegal retaliation that stymies all forms of worker organizing. Internationally, in the garment industry in Bangladesh and Lesotho, unions have taken the lead in using this supply chain model to enforce workplace protections that would be hard to do otherwise.

Since the 2004 founding of Partners for Dignity and Rights, the organization I work for, we have supported worker-based community groups in establishing private enforcement programs through legally-binding WSR agreements with brands and retailers at the top of supply chains. When these companies sign, they agree to only use suppliers that comply with a set of minimum standards, as verified by an independent monitor. Market consequences give WSR programs the enforcement power they need to deliver timely protection to workers. 

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) Fair Food Program demonstrates how this model can work in the U.S. The program, based on 14 contracts with the major buyers of tomatoes, like McDonald’s and Walmart, covers over 30,000 farmworkers and is the result of decades of organizing. The Fair Food Standards Council is the program’s monitor, conducting regular, rigorous, in-person audits, and running a trilingual complaint hotline, while CIW conducts on-site training for every worker on their rights under the program. The Council works with growers to develop corrective action plans to bring about timely changes. For serious abuses, including growers’ failure to immediately redress retaliation and discipline the abusers, growers face suspension or probation from the program and loss of participating buyers’ business.

Securing union contracts in new workplaces and adapting the WSR model in new industries in the U.S. and internationally are important, hard-fought wins for our movement. At the same time, there are literally millions more workers who are adversely affected by the lawlessness of our existing labor market without the protective measures these contracts create. To reach these workers and achieve scale, we need to employ every tool we can to blunt and prevent unlawful retaliation and other abuses. 


Forbes: Why Worker Organizing Is So Essential To The Food Industry

CIW, Migrant Justice, and the Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) model got a shout-out from frequent collaborator Errol Schweizer in the Forbes piece on the power of collective worker organizing in the food industry: 

“Others, such as Worker’s Justice Project, have organized immigrant gig workers for better working conditions and more control over delivery apps. And rural worker centers like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Migrant Justice organize farmworkers who have … catalyzed a movement for Worker-Driven Social Responsibility, where corporate and institutional buyers sign legally binding agreements that ensure better pay and safety standards for farmworkers. The connective tissues here is the collective agency of working people, coming together to forge a better life.”


CIW’s Leonel Perez Interviewed on Marketplace On Immokalee Housing

Five years after Hurricane Irma devastated our region and destroyed much of the limited housing available to farmworkers, not much has improved when it comes to safe and affordable housing. CIW organizer Leonel Perez spoke to Marketplace reporter Mitchell Hartman about the challenges facing farmworker families. Low wages, unpredictable income that makes saving impossible, and, critically, lack of other options, mean that farmworkers have little choice but to endure deficient, crowded, and even dangerous trailers. A new nonprofit in the region, the Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance, is trying to change those conditions and increase the options for farmworker families by building housing that would serve 128 families. Listen to the full story below: 


Fair Food Program Featured on Climate Kitchen Podcast

This month, CIW’s Gerardo Reyes Chavez and FFSC’s Ariadna Rico were joined by Fordham University’s Jim Brudney for a conversation on the history and impact of the Fair Food Program. 

Episode Description: Immokalee Florida is known for being the epicenter of tomato production in the US, responsible for producing 90 percent of all winter tomatoes consumed here. But not long ago Immokalee Florida was also known as being ground zero for modern day slavery. Migrant workers would pick tomatoes without rest breaks in oppressive Florida heat. There was sexual assault, pay abuses and horrible working conditions.  Thankfully, in the case of Florida tomatoes, these abusive practices have almost completely disappeared thanks to a coalition of ingenious workers who were able to build partnerships with some of the biggest food brands in the country.


CIW’s Marley Monacello Joins Inaugural Class of Aspen Food Leaders Fellows

On July 14, the Aspen Institute announced its first cohort of Food Leaders Fellows, an 18-month fellowship focused on building the capacity of rising food system leaders to spark and sustain scalable change. CIW staffer Marley Monacello was chosen for the program from a competitive nationwide pool, and through her participation will bring new connections and capacity to the work of CIW and the Fair Food Program.