Media Roundup: How the Fair Food Program’s heat protections are transforming agriculture

Workers inside the FFP receive on-the-clock, worker-to-worker education on their rights inside the program, which includes rigorous and enforceable heat stress protections.

The Invading Sea: “A solution is hiding in plain sight on farms in the supply chains of major corporations participating in the Fair Food Program”

This summer has brought deadly heat across much of the world, including regions in the southern hemisphere that are supposed to be experiencing winter. And with the rising heat and climate instability comes compounding dangers for all those who must work outdoors, including farmworkers.

Not only does this represent a systemic human rights crisis, but it is a crisis that is largely preventable.

The CIW and its partners within the FFP, recognizing the need to implement heat stress standards on as many farms as possible, forged a set of heat stress protections within the Fair Food Program that safeguards workers against the worst effects of heat by mandating shade, water, and regular rest breaks, providing training on heat stress symptoms, and empowering workers to stop work and to request immediate medical treatment if requested. By collaborating with participating growers in the FFP, these protections were swiftly agreed upon and implemented in 2021.

Now, after two years of proven success, these heat protections serve as a living, breathing case study as to how the worker-driven social responsibility model can quickly respond to shifts in living and working conditions, and are saving the lives of farmworkers harvesting over a dozen crops in ten states and three countries.

Today’s media round-up provides an overview of how the FFP’s heat illness standards work to protect vulnerable farmworkers, and represent a scalable solution for all farmworkers, as well as a model for low-wage and outdoor workers, to become the frontline monitors of their own rights all over the world. First up is an excerpt from a recent Vox article that goes in-depth on how industries and workers are responding to rising heat, and how the FFP stands apart as a rapid solution.

This summer is giving us a glimpse at the dangerous future of work

By Whizy Kim and Kenny Torrella, Aug 25, 2023

It’s been a summer of record-breaking heat waves. In July, a heat dome smothered much of the South, while Phoenix sweltered under a 31-day streak of temperatures above 110 degrees.

Another wave of searing temperatures is currently sweeping the central US, with the heat index — a metric that combines relative humidity with air temperature to gauge what the temperature actually feels like — creeping above 120 degrees in many cities…

…The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), which advocates for farm workers in Florida and beyond, isn’t waiting on the federal government. In 2011, the group launched the Fair Food Program, which sets stronger labor standards, including heat standards, on farms. So far more than 20 crop growers, along with Burger King, McDonald’s, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and other large food companies, have signed on.

Gerardo Reyes Chavez, an organizer with CIW and a former farmworker himself, says the difference between conditions on farms signed up with the program and those that aren’t are like night and day. “Before, you didn’t have any way to protect yourself, you were basically down to your luck. But the way I see it, human rights shouldn’t depend on luck.”

These two parallel worlds of agriculture, the world outside of the FFP and the world inside the FFP’s protections, become even more starkly contrasted when hearing stories of farmworkers who collapse on farms because there is simply nowhere to go to escape the piercing heat of the sun, no viable way to stop working and rest without fear of retaliation from a crewleader, and no drinking water available to them–all things guaranteed to them inside the FFP. To provide more insight on how the FFP works to mandate these critical resources for farmworkers and how it can be easily expanded to cover more farms, the climate change blog The Invading Sea reprinted this week the excellent op/ed on the FFP’s heat standards from Dr. Susan Marquis of Princeton University published last week in the Miami Herald.  Here below is an excerpt: 

Outdoor workers are dying in extreme heat. We have the solution to save their lives

By Dr. Susan Marquis, published August 17, 2023

Legal protection, and ensuing enforcement, is needed. But extreme heat will not let up while we wait for deals to be made, regulation to be reviewed and enforcement mechanisms to be put in place. Workers’ lives are at stake.

An off-the-shelf solution is hiding in plain sight on farms in the supply chains of major corporations participating in the Fair Food Program, a worker-driven, legally binding partnership between farmworkers, growers and large corporate buyers.

Farmworkers in the Fair Food Program have developed heat-illness standards and protocols that already are in place on farms from Florida to New Jersey, reaching west through Tennessee and Colorado, and into California. These farms are the suppliers for international grocery chains, most major fast-food chains and food-service companies. By purchasing produce only from suppliers in compliance with Fair Food Program standards, Walmart, McDonald’s, Whole Foods, Yum! Brands and other national and global chains put their corporate buying power behind enforcement of the program’s code of conduct to ensure the human rights and safety of the workers in their supply chains and to thereby protect their brands.

The Fair Food Program has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor, Department of Justice, and Customs and Border Protection, as well as internationally by the United Nations as the only effective program in preventing the abuses common in corporate supply chains. Through mandatory standards, worker education, 24/7 monitoring and immediate market consequences for violations, the program is credited with eliminating unsafe working conditions, wage theft, beatings, rape and forced labor for tens of thousands of farmworkers each year on participating U.S. farms.

Farmworkers themselves attest to the effectiveness of the FFP’s heat stress protocols. In the same op-ed, Dr. Marquis cites a farmworker who said:  “We can do more than improve day-to-day health and safety conditions. We can prevent a father or mother, a daughter or son, from losing their lives.”

Farmworkers in Georgia participate in an FFP education session

More broadly, farmworkers interviewed by auditors with the Fair Food Standards Council, the independent monitoring body overseeing the implementation of the FFP, speak in vivid detail about how the program has transformed the same farms they worked on before the FFP was launched: 

 “I worked here ten years ago, and it was a very abusive environment. We were rushed to work harder all the time, and we were yelled at and disrespected. We felt beaten down, nervous around our supervisors, and worked almost like slaves. We had no one to complain to about this abuse, so nothing ever changed… I heard from friends that continued to work at [the farm] that things had changed, and I came back to work… The environment here is so much better; we have everything we need, from gloves to bathrooms to water and shade, and if we have a complaint… Workers here are now treated with respect, like human beings.”

Another farmworker told auditors:

“The fields have changed – now, we have better wages and better treatment for everyone. Before, there was nothing like that. Before, I would be working under the sun, working hard, and I would want to stop for water. The boss would stop me, and I would say, I need water. He would say, there’s the ditch over there, it’s got some water. There were no water bottles. We were exhausted, we needed water. There were no toilets. Before, if you spoke out, you would be fired. Tomorrow, don’t come, there’s no work for you. But now that we are united, we have strength. We are taking steps forward, and we cannot go back. We have to go forward. We are building a road forward, and we will never go back.”

Looking ahead, climate change promises to bring yet more record-breaking summers that will likely be increasingly fatal as long as farmworkers and other vulnerable outdoor workers are largely powerless to protect themselves or speak up for their basic human rights. The Fair Food Program represents the proven, powerful, scalable solution to meet the magnitude of this crisis.

If you are are grower interested in learning more about the FFP, please call (239) 657-8311 or email us at: