As May Day, observed internationally on May 1st, approaches, it’s important to recognize the challenges facing workers in the food system. These challenges include issues such as fair living wages, better treatment of farm workers, and other basic human rights. According to the 2009 Global Employment Trends report of the International Labour Organization (ILO), over one billion people worldwide are employed in the agricultural sector. Here are nine innovative ways that food workers and organizations are fighting for justice:
1. Coalition of Immokalee Workers: March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food. In March of this year, the CIW took part in the two-week march to the headquarters of one of Florida’s largest grocery chains, Publix. The original March for Dignity, Dialogue & a Fair Wage in 2000 fought for higher, more just workers’ wages, and helped develop the Fair Food Program. The Fair Food Program uses a penny-per-pound increase in the price that growers pay for picked tomatoes to enable farmers to provide crucial benefits to workers, such as a higher wage, shade tents in the field, education on farmer’s rights, and a code of conduct for growers to follow. While many Florida grocers and national restaurants have signed on to the Fair Food Program, Publix has refused to do so.
2. Farm Labor Organization Committee (FLOC): The Reynolds Campaign. In 2006, FLOC began a campaign to improve working conditions, establish a human rights protocol through its supply chain, and provide a fair wage to tobacco farmers. The organization also challenged RJ Reynolds, one of the leading and most profitable tobacco companies, resulting in the Reynolds shareholders agreeing to meet with the farmers and discuss the farmworkers’ rights.
3. Oxfam International: GROW. The GROW program asks consumers to look for and buy Fair Trade products at the grocery store. Certified Fair Trade products such as coffees, teas, cocoas, and nuts ensure that what you are buying promotes a sustainable, healthy planet, fair prices and working conditions to farmers, and business and community development. Consumers can purchase Fair Trade products as a way to “use [their voices] to tell food brands and politicians to give small scale farmers and workers a better deal.”
4. Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF): Using documentary filmmaking as a medium, SAF seeks to educate the community on farmworkers, their lives, cultures, and issues they face working in the food system. Issues portrayed through the films include farmworkers’ work and working conditions and the meaning of family in their work, whether it is their family back home or that formed with other farmers.
5. United Farm Workers: Founded by Cesar Chavez, the United Farm Workers organization has been instrumental in negotiating fair wage and benefit contracts for migrant workers in wine, mushroom, and strawberry fields, among others.
6. Self-Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA): This trade union, founded in 1972, is a coalition of self-employed, often poor, women workers that strive for full-employment recognition, which would allow these women income, work, food, and social security in India.
7. The National Center for Farmworker Health (NCFH): This is a non-profit organization that has dedicated itself to improving the health of migrant farmworkers and their families through increased access to culturally appropriate health care. Their Gift of Health Program allows the general public to make monetary donations that are redirected to ensure that migrant workers are afforded quality health care.
8. The Solms Delta Wijn de Caab Trust: This South African wine estate established its own initiative in 2005 to break the cycle of poverty among its tenants and agricultural workers and improve the quality of life on the estate. As a one-third owner of the estate, the trust receives 33 percent of every sale, which is applied to improved living and working conditions, education and health care for workers and their families.
9. Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA): This national network of students and youth has aligned itself with farmers and farmworkers to help eliminate sweatshop conditions in the field. The Dine with Dignity campaign has taken on some of the major food service providers on college and university campuses, including Sodexo and Aramark, asking them to join in SFA and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Project.