Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Our tomatoes are picked by slaves"

This photo was snapped in April of 2006 somewhere around the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Aside from it bringing a smile to our faces, we're sharing it here today not in order to claim that Chipotle's tomatoes are or ever have been picked by slave labor. Perhaps Chipotle would like to answer that question?

What we do have to say is just a quick comment on what will be necessary to end the all too real slavery in the Florida agricultural industry and Chipotle’s failure in this regard.

We propose that the elimination of slavery will necessitate that farmworkers have the ability to participate at all levels in the protection of their own rights. After all, since it is farmworkers’ powerlessness and lack of a voice in the industry which has set the stage for them to be easily exploited and at times enslaved, ending that exploitation would logically require that farmworkers have greater power over their lives and labor and be able to decide for themselves what’s in their best interest. Furthermore, the incredible progress which we are witnessing toward farmworker justice has come about only because farmworkers themselves joined together as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and fought for it – without the people in the fields leading the struggle, change would never and will never occur.

What did Chipotle exclude from its recent agreement with East Coast Growers which it boasts will improve the wages of tomato pickers? Chipotle excluded farmworkers from participating at any level in the protection of their own rights.

Excluding farmworkers from developing, monitoring and enforcing the standards which they believe are necessary for the defense of their rights is a sure fire way to stall improvements of working conditions and make reforms meaningless. It is the perfect way to maintain a status quo in which exploitation and abuse thrive.

Chipotle’s approach comes in stark contrast to the recent other agreement that East Coast Growers made to improve the wages and working conditions of farmworkers – this one with the CIW and the major food service provider Compass Group. Not only does the East Coast, CIW, Compass agreement, provide for much higher standards for workers’ rights and working conditions than Chipotle's, but at the heart there is a fundamental difference which Rev. Noelle Damico beautifully captured at the announcement of the agreement: “This is not an agreement in which farmworkers are ‘done unto.’ Farmworkers have been full partners in the creation of this agreement and will be full partners in its implementation, because the agreement and its partners recognize each other as human beings who are entitled to respect, voice, and participation.”

Talk all it will about antibiotic-free chicken, “food with integrity,” and even making “a difference in the lives of workers who pick tomatoes for Chipotle,” Chipotle is still on the side of slavery as long as it is not on the side of workers. Sin el pueblo no hay la justicia.

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