Final wrap-up from last month’s March to Build a New World

Almost 600 farmworkers and allies marched into billionaire enclave of Palm Beach, FL to celebrate the Fair Food Program and demand Wendy’s, Publix, and Kroger join the gold standard for human rights protection in the agricultural industry.

Now you can read the solidarity statements from allies around the country, like these two below, that buoyed marchers’ spirits on the 5-day trek through Florida’s vast sugar plantations and bustling coastal cities:

Wendy Ake, Just Public Finance: “You are shouldering the globe this week and we are all the better for it.”

Noelle Damico, The Workers’ Circle: “With every step you are bringing us closer to a world without slavery, a world of dignity and rights, a world of human equality.”

PLUS… Check out the article on the march in the Supermarket News and some great new video clips from the people at More Perfect Union.  And be sure to spend a few minutes with a beautiful Day 5 photo gallery from CIW ally, Jesi Kelley, you’ll be glad you did!

From March 14-17, over 100 farmworkers and allies marched shoulder to shoulder from Pahokee to Palm Beach, Florida, to celebrate more than 10 years of unprecedented human rights progress under the Fair Food Program’s protections, and to demand that Wendy’s, Publix, and Kroger finally join the Presidential Medal-winning program. By the last day, the march had swollen more than five times its size, to nearly 600.  The final day of the energetic, colorful march illustrated both the strength of the Fair Food Nation and the urgent need for these holdout corporations to do their part to end forced labor and other longstanding human rights abuses in the fields.

The march was a gargantuan effort.  Supporters flew into Florida from all over the country while committees of staff and volunteers worked tirelessly to ensure that every aspect of the march — from the route and police communications to lodging, food, and security — went smoothly. What was sacrificed in sleep and creature comforts along the route was more than replaced by a sense of lasting camaraderie for all who were involved.  From the bottom of our hearts here in Immokalee, we want to thank each and every one of you who made the March for Farmworker Freedom possible. We were fueled not only by a celebration of the Fair Food Program and righteous indignation at the plight of forced labor, but also by a sense of love of the incredible community that has helped make the unparalleled human rights progress of the last 30 years possible. 

Today, we at the CIW are happy to share the final round-up of highlights from those five unforgettable days in March.  While we marched, messages of solidarity flooded in from across the nation, journalists followed us and reported on our progress, and teams of supremely talented documentary crews embedded with our group.  To begin today’s post, we wanted to share some of those deeply moving messages of solidarity that poured in from around the country for the marchers over the course of their week on the road. 

From Rabbi Ellen Lippmann:

“Hello, CIW!

I am a “Tomato Rabbi” through T’ruah and spent a few days in Immokalee with you some years ago.  I have been many times to Leonard Peltz’s office to try to get a letter to him, and protested him outside, and have gone to Wendy’s stores to get customers to listen up.

Besides that I have done a lot of work in NYC for low wage workers, notably the Fight for $15, and Domestic Workers Rights, and I think of the CIW as a model of how the people who are affected by the conditions on the ground can come together to fight for better conditions, wages, benefits, and respect.

So today I salute you as you take this long walk to keep that fight going.  And I know one day Peltz will fold and so will Publix and Kroger.  Why not? It is the just, right, effective thing to do to join the Fair Food Program. 

Keep fighting til they do, and I and so many will be here supporting you.”

From the National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM) office:

From Investor Advocates for Social Justice and the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany NY:

“Dear CIW, 

“Farmworkers’ rights are human rights, and we stand as faith-based investors in solidarity with CIW farmworkers and allies calling on Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program. When investors join together to support worker-driven movements, we can work together towards meaningful corporate change.”

We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters at CIW and the farmworkers they represent.”

From Rabbi Suzanne Singer

“Dear Marchers: I wish I could be marching with you. Thank you for representing those who believe that fair wages and working conditions are the bare minimum an employer should provide their workers. I was in Immokalee several years ago and was so impressed with the work that CIW has accomplished. 

L’hatzlahah! To a great success.” 

From Wendy Ake, Director, Just Public Finance, Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley:

“The earth is up on your shoulders, carried on your terms. The flags freshly screen printed and sun umbrellas explain why: justicia, respeto, dignidad.  You are shouldering the globe this week and we are all the better for it. 

From the kids faces to the elders—you are all movement elders, directing attention to how to get to where we need to be. 

It’s a beautiful thing to see you all this week building a long history and a thriving future of global dignity, respect, & justice in lockstep with people across the globe directing us to better strategies with such sweet style.

I’m a fortunate witness to this weeks March through the socials. May Wendy’s Publix & Kroger—& the foundation of finance that buys all the ingredients for life—fall under the weight of the sun umbrellas, footsteps, and smoooooth tactical missions.”

From Noelle Damico, Director of Social Justice, The Workers’ Circle:

“Dear friends,

Sending love and strength to you for the journey! With every step you are bringing us closer to a world without slavery, a world of dignity and rights, a world of human equality. The Fair Food Program is a beacon of hope because it shows the world that these advances in human rights are possible and beneficial to all. From walking on so many other marches with you, I know that your feet may now be starting to blister but your determination will carry you forward. The sound of your footsteps even now are causing the Goliaths of Kroger, Publix, and Wendy’s to shudder and that beat will only grow louder over the coming days and coming weeks as your witness brings thousands more toward the Campaign. So march on in power and know that I and so many others across the country are marching with you in spirit.” 

Un abrazo fuerte

At the same time we were receiving these amazing letters of solidarity, journalists from around the state and country were keeping a close eye on our march.  Reporters from More Perfect Union met with us at our grand finale rally on the morning of March 18, and interviewed longtime staff member and former farmworker Lupe Gonzalo on her experiences as a farmworker before the advent of the Fair Food Program and lessons learned as a lead educator in the FFP’s worker-to-worker education process on participating farms today.  Lupe also touched on the responsibility corporations like Kroger, Wendy’s, and Publix have to ensure the human rights of farmworkers are respected.

Here are a few clips from their coverage:

We also received coverage from Supermarket News, a retail industry trade publication, which emphasized the need to treat farmworkers as full humans, and singled out Kroger for its treatment of the workers within its orbit, whether it is those directly employed by Kroger or workers in their supply chain:

Here is a short excerpt from that article, which you can read in full here

Farm workers walk to convince Kroger, Publix to join Fair Food Program

Bill Wilson – March 22, 2023 

Farm workers are on their feet all day, so what better way to send a message? A group about 100 strong were walking across Florida trying to urge Kroger and Publix to join the Fair Food Program. Many competitors of the two stores are already a part of the crusade. Retailers like Walmart and Trader Joe’s only do business with growers that follow a code of conduct which provides a safe environment for workers.

The Fair Food Program began in 2010 and is a partnership among farmers, farm workers, and retail food companies that ensure humane wages and working conditions for people who feed families.

What sparked the protest march was the recent sentencing of Bladimir Moreno, owner of Los Villatoros Harvesting, who will be spending the next nine years in a federal prison for federal racketeering and operating a forced labor camp in Pahokee, Fla. Moreno’s operation was a horrific one. Workers did not receive promised wages, were held at gun point and were encased in a barbed-wire fence at night. Two men managed to escape and fled to Immokalee, which was known for decades as Ground Zero for modern slavery…

… Kroger has not responded to an email request by Supermarket News.

Kroger’s own laborers also have had issues with the grocer.

Four lawsuits have been filed accusing Kroger of paying employees less than they were supposed to make or failing to deliver payment at all. The culprit behind the error seems to be a new payroll system called MyTime or MyInfo. The lawsuits note the problems arose between September and November of last year and happened in four states: Ohio, Oregon, Washington and Virginia. The lawsuits also accuse Kroger of violating several state and federal laws.

Kroger said many of the issues have been resolved and that it has taken the necessary steps to expedite payments to employees impacted by the error. Still, the lawsuits tell a story of despair. Some employees had to take second jobs or pull out high-interest loans due to the shortchanging and missed payments.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote a letter to Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen about the issue. The lawmakers wanted to know the specifics behind the problem and what Kroger has done to resolve it.

Finally, we hope you take a moment to sit with the amazing images taken by Jesi Kelley, who joined the CIW’s media crew as a documentarian and immediately captured the overwhelming feeling of joy and solidarity on our march: 


While you’re here, feel free to browse our highlights from each day, which include original photos and media highlights!

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3 

Day 4 

Day 5 Part One, Part Two, Part Three