Labor is the base of our entire food system. A well-paid, fairly-treated labor force marks the foundation of a truly sustainable and complete food system. The upcoming documentary Food Chains is an expose on an intrepid group of Florida farmworkers as they battle to defeat the $4 trillion global supermarket industry and fight for fairer wages.
In the game Jenga, when one starts removing the bottom pieces, the foundation of the tower becomes more vulnerable and will inevitably crash. In the food system, however, labor prospers when there is transparency and accountability from every player in the supply chain.
Not long ago, Immokalee, Florida – once known as ground zero of modern-day slavery – housed one of the most vulnerable populations of farm labor in the United States. In response to the growing abuses and human rights violations, such as sexual harassment, wage theft, and modern-day slavery, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of tomato pickers from Immokalee, created the Fair Food Program (FFP) to demand increased wages and better working conditions. The FFP demands that large purchasers of tomatoes pay a penny-per-pund premium which is delivered to farm workers. The FFP also demands that these purchasers sign an agreement to only buy from farmers who follow a code of conduct.
The FFP, which now has the participation of 12 major retailers, has created a 180-degree change in the fields by educating workers on their rights and enforcing the code of conduct, which eliminates abuses and exploitation.
One of the 12 participants of the FFP is Wal-Mart. Executive Vice-President of Grocery, Jack Sinclair, who represents the biggest purchaser of food in the world, said that while making decisions to scale, he considers how the “efficiency in one part of the chain is affecting the efficiency on another part of the chain.” Retailers at the top of the food supply chain have the power to challenge their suppliers to create products and provide the supporting information, per their consumers’ demands.
Equal pressure and demand between the farmworker, farmer, retailer, and consumer is at the base of the Fair Food Program.
Other major retailers, like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, and fast food chains, like Taco Bell and McDonalds, are all part of the FFP. It is the pressure on big agriculture that has created this model, which is considered the most progressive labor initiative in agriculture. As author Michael Pollan stated, “beating up on big agriculture has a value.”
For sustainability to go mainstream, companies of all scales should consider purchasing behavior that is led by the power of the market. The FFP has only succeeded by harnessing consumer demand. As the demand for fair labor grows, agriculture will become sustainable.
Food Chains which is executive produced by Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Eva Longoria, will be released nationwide in theaters and iTunes on November 21st. Visit www.foodchainsfilm.com for theater information.