The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a farm worker-led organization based in Immokalee, Florida, works to eliminate abuse, wage theft, and unsafe working conditions for agriculture workers through their Fair Food Program. They are working in partnership with Just Harvest USA on a national Campaign for Fair Food. The mission of Just Harvest USA is “to build a more just and sustainable food system with a focus on establishing fair wages, humane working conditions and fundamental rights for farmworkers.” Food Tank spoke with a representative from CIW, Oscar Otzoy, and Jake Ratner from Just Harvest USA, to learn more about the campaign.
Food Tank (FT): What is the Campaign for Fair Food?
Oscar: The Campaign for Fair Food was created to address abuses and exploitation that agriculture workers have faced for years. This included physical violence, sexual harassment, systematic wage theft, and, in the most extreme cases, modern-day slavery. The campaign focuses on major food retailers. We ask them to use their enormous buying power to one, pay a penny more per pound to lift farmworkers’ wages, and two, demand that their tomato supplies respect farm workers’ human rights. Through a partnership between tomato growers, retailers, and farmworkers, the Fair Food Program was created.
FT: What retailers are currently signed up with the Campaign for Fair Food?
Oscar: Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods, Bon Appetit, Compass Group, Aramark, Sodexo, and Trader Joe’s. CIW, together with Just Harvest USA and other ally organizations, is focused on bringing the remaining, hold-out corporations like Wendy’s, as well as supermarket industry leaders Publix, Kroger and Ahold.
FT: How do you ensure that farms are living up to their word and respecting farmworkers’ rights?
Oscar: To enforce these changes in the fields, farm workers act as their own monitors, receiving a worker-to-worker education session from CIW. For the first time, farm workers can file complaints without fear of retaliation from their bosses. Additionally, an independent third party called the Fair Food Standard Counsel ensures farms are living up to the standards created by the Fair Food Program. They conduct interviews and audits. If, for example, an accusation of sexual harassment is filed by a farm worker against a manager, the Fair Food Standard Counsel sends out investigators. If the accusations are founded, the Council will press for the dismissal of the manager. If the farms do not comply, major retailers are obligated to no longer purchase from the farm.
FT: How do you measure success?
Oscar: We can see the changes in working conditions already. Farm workers can now speak out against violations and know that they will be heard. They have the right to form a health & safety committee to meet with management over health concerns while on the job, such as pesticide exposure, and to stop work if conditions are unsafe or hazardous. Three to four years ago, before the Fair Food Program went into effect, farm workers often did not have things like shade while working or access to water in the fields. We have also instituted the “penny to pound” program, paid out by major retailers as an additional penny for every pound picked and sold to a participating company. Farm workers receive this wage increase in the form of a weekly bonus.
FT: What is the relationship between Just Harvest USA and CIW?
Jake: Just Harvest USA works to make sure farm workers’ voices are included in national food movement conversations. We recognize that they have a unique understanding of the issues they face, and are essential leaders in the effort to transform our nation’s food system. We do this by creating public awareness, supporting farmworker-led grassroots efforts, and promoting socially responsible purchasing by the food industry.
FT: The website cites the relationship between farmers and farmworkers as an issue. Why are the two groups having trouble working together and what would the outcome be if they were able to act as a united front?
Jake: Too often our system of agriculture in the U.S. pits farmers against farm workers – both squeezed from above by the increasing consolidation at the retail end and subsequent race to low prices. When it comes to the Fair Food movement, there has been some incredible collaboration, small farmers supporting CIW’s current consumer campaigns, and the CIW’s Fair Food Program serving as a model for change in other industries.
FT: What’s next for the Campaign for Fair Food?
Oscar: Our next major escalation in our Wendy’s campaign will be starting on November 11th, around Wendy’s Founder’s Week – a week when Wendy’s stores nationwide celebrate the core values of founder Dave Thomas. On their website, Wendy’s writes, “Activities are planned in different locations to celebrate Wendy’s traditions, our history and culture, and to renew our commitment to Wendy’s heritage and our values as an organization.”
In response, all across the nation, cities and Fair Food groups will be organizing actions throughout the week – including letter deliveries, marches, and protests to highlight the fact that Dave Thomas’ values stand in stark contradiction to Wendy’s current refusal to the Fair Food Program. The actions planned in dozens of cities nationwide – from Washington, D.C. to Columbus, OH – plan to send the message that Wendy’s rejection of a verifiable solution to ensure human rights for farmworkers undermines the values the company espouses. We’ll be posting a full list of cities where actions will take place shortly.