PRESS RELEASE: CIW announces march to celebrate 10+ years of progress under Fair Food Program, calls on holdouts Wendy’s, Kroger, and Publix to help finish the job of eradicating forced labor

Workers on a Fair Food Program farm gather for an FFP worker-to-worker education session, led by members of the CIW Education Team, before heading into the fields to harvest tomatoes that will bear the Fair Food Program label. FFP education sessions take place on the clock and in the fields, and inform workers at least twice a season of their rights under the Food Code of Conduct. Nowhere else in US agriculture do rights education sessions like these take place, one of the many reasons why the worker-driven, Presidential Medal-winning Fair Food Program has become the new gold standard for human rights protections in the agricultural industry, and why companies like Kroger, Wendy’s and Publix must join the FFP to expand its best-in-class protections to their suppliers’ operations and finally make cases like the recent forced labor prosecution based in Pahokee, Florida, a thing of the past.



Farmworkers Announce 5-day March to Celebrate Fair Food Program,
Demand Wendy’s, Publix, Kroger Join in Light of Recent Forced Labor Case

Immokalee, FL – On March 14th, farmworkers and their allies will embark on a 5-day march from the small, agricultural community of Pahokee, FL, to the coastal city of Palm Beach to celebrate more than ten years of unprecedented human rights success in the US agricultural industry spearheaded by the farmworker-led, Presidential Medal-winning Fair Food Program (FFP).  Marchers will also be calling on retail food giants Wendy’s, Publix, and Kroger to join the Fair Food Program — a human rights initiative that many of their competitors joined over a decade ago — and do their part to help expand the FFP’s gold standard protections to farmworkers on their suppliers’ farms.

All three companies have, for years, rejected consumers’ calls to join the Fair Food Program and empower farmworkers in their supply chains to confront abuses in the fields, while a US Department of Labor press release earlier this month identified Kroger as one of several large retailers to purchase watermelons harvested by a company that was the subject of the latest forced labor prosecution to come out of Florida’s fields.

The FFP is a growing partnership among farmworkers, farmers, and major retailers – including companies like McDonalds, Whole Foods, and foodservice giant Compass Group – that leverages the retail brandspurchasing power to bring about long-overdue labor reforms on the farms where they buy their produce.  The Fair Food Program has helped transform Florida’s tomato industry from what federal prosecutors dubbed “ground zero for modern day slavery” before the FFP’s launch in 2011, to what one expert called “the best workplace environment in US agriculture” on the front page of the New York Times in 2014.  The Program has won widespread recognition, from the United Nations to the White House, for eliminating longstanding labor abuses in now ten states and multiple crops. In the words of Mike Rios, Regional Coordinator with the United States Department of Labor for Agricultural Enforcement in the Southeastern US, the Fair Food Program is something every grower and food retailer should be a part of.  The programs success is absolutely undeniable.”

“The changes in farmworkers’ lives brought about by the Fair Food Program over the past decade have been nothing short of remarkable,” says Lupe Gonzalo, a former farmworker and leader of the FFP’s worker-to-worker education team on participating farms.  “Over 80% of farmworker women in this country report experiencing sexual harassment and assault, but not on Fair Food Program farms. Forced labor prosecutions are surging in the South today, but not on Fair Food Program farms.  And systemic wage theft, dangerous working conditions, and harsh verbal abuse are the daily bread of tens of thousands of farmworkers from here to California, but not on Fair Food Program farms,” continues Gonzalo.

On farms beyond the FFP’s protections, however, modern-day slavery is on the rise in Florida and across the country, growing in both scale and brutality.  One ongoing prosecution, dubbed “Operation Blooming Onion” by law enforcement officials, found more than 71,000 workers entangled in a multi-state forced labor scheme which generated over $200 million in illegal profits laundered through a Florida casino. 

The march will begin outside a labor camp in the small, agricultural community of Pahokee.  The camp, surrounded by barbed wire, housed workers in the most recent forced labor operation uncovered by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a discovery that led to a prosecution involving hundreds of farmworkers in 5 states trapped in brutal working and living conditions under insurmountable debts and threats of violence and deportation by abusive supervisors. According to the CIW, the march will not only highlight the urgency of such forced labor cases, but celebrate 10 years of a viable solution in the Fair Food Program.

“If the stark contrast between the humane conditions on Fair Food Program farms and the harsh conditions on farms beyond the Program’s protections has taught us anything, it’s that farm labor abuse is a horrible problem, but it’s a problem with a simple solution: Join the Fair Food program,” said Lucas Benitez, a Co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and of the FFP.

March Details: The final day, March 18, will culminate in a rally at Lake Drive Park in Palm Beach beginning at 10:30 AM followed by a 2-mile march in Palm Beach.  Over 50 farmworkers and allies are expected to take part in the entire five-day march, with hundreds more joining for the final 2-mile stretch and rally. The march and final-day rally will be open to the public and all those who support freedom for farmworkers are encouraged to participate in this peaceful protest.


About the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW):  The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a worker-based human rights organization based in Immokalee, FL committed to improving working conditions through enforceable human rights protections within supply chains. Internationally recognized for its achievements in the field of corporate accountability — with a particular focus on the fight against forced labor and gender-based violence at work — the CIW is built on a foundation of farmworker community organizing reinforced by a national consumer network.  The CIW’s work encompasses three broad and overlapping spheres: (1) the Fair Food Program; (2) the Anti-Slavery Program; and (3) the Campaign for Fair Food.

About the Fair Food Program (FFP):   Participating retailers in the CIW’s Fair Food Program agree to purchase from suppliers who comply with a worker-driven code of conduct, which includes a zero-tolerance policy for forced labor and sexual assault. Retailers also pay a “penny-per-pound” premium, which is passed down through the supply chain and paid out directly to workers by their employers. Since the program’s inception in 2011, buyers have paid over $42 million in premiums. Harvard Business Review called the FFP “one of the most important social-impact stories of the past century,” while the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking called it “an international benchmark in the fight against modern-day slavery.”  The FFP received a Presidential Medal in 2015, a James Beard Award in 2016, and a MacArthur “Genius” Award in 2017, among its many national and international recognitions.

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Ty Joplin