Monday, September 28, 2009

"The Beginning of the End of the Harvest of Shame"

Make sure you stay up to date on the exciting new victory for the Campaign for Fair Food!

Compass/Coaltion of Immokalee Workers Press Release
From the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

From the Student/Farmworker Alliance
"A Compass for Fair Food" from The Nation
"Tomato Workers Win New Pay Deal" from News Press
"Tomato Pickers' Penny per Pound is 'Right Before God'" from FloridaCatholic
"Farmworkers' Wages to Increase" from the Washington Post (or see below)

After over a decade of struggle, one thing is clear: the CIW and the Campaign for Fair Food are winning! With the largest fast food, food service, and natural grocery companies on board, we can't help thing out loud, "how long until Chipotle formally joins us on the winning side of justice?"

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Farm Workers' Wages to Increase Under Labor Agreement

Farm Workers' Wages to Increase Under Labor Agreement

Washington Post Staff Writer 
Friday, September 25, 2009; 2:34 PM

In what Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis called a "huge victory" for farm workers, one of the country's largest food service companies announced Friday that it will buy winter tomatoes only from growers that pay a fair wage and offer good working conditions.

The Compass Group, which buys 10 million pounds of tomatoes annually, will pay an additional 1.5 cents per pound for all the tomatoes it purchases; one cent per pound will go directly to the workers.

That might not sound like a lot. But it will boost workers' wages from 50 cents for a 32-pound bucket to 82 cents per bucket, a 64 percent raise. The decision, made in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a South Florida farm workers organization, also includes a strict code of conduct to monitor hours worked and employee safety. East Coast Growers and Packers, the third-largest tomato grower in Florida, has agreed to Compass's terms.

"The future of Florida agriculture is contained within this agreement," said Lucas Benitez, co-founder of the CIW. "It is a future founded on mutual respect and mutual benefit."

The Compass agreement is another sign of how American companies are expanding their definitions of sustainability. This year, Starbucks launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign trumpeting the ethical production of its coffee. In March, Unilever announced that all the tea sold under the Lipton brand had been certified by the Rainforest Alliance, a nonprofit organization that mandates worker welfare standards.

"It's no longer only about the nutritional value of food but how it's produced and collected," Solis said in an interview at the Newseum, where the agreement was announced. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack could not attend the event, but, in a message delivered by Solis, he called the agreement a "meaningful step, not only for tomato harvesters, but as an expression of the value of farm workers in our agricultural system as a whole."

Compass is not the first to sign an agreement with the CIW: McDonalds, Burger King and Yum Brands also have agreed to pay higher wages. But many workers never saw the money. In 2007, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, a trade association that says it represents more than 90 percent of state production, barred its members from passing on the increase to workers. The CIW estimates that as much as $1.5 million is being held in escrow.

With the promise of business from Compass and other large food corporations such as McDonalds, East Coast decided to resign from the growers exchange. "It's an unpopular decision with my competition," said Batista Madonia Jr., East Coast's vice president and sales manager. "But it doesn't cost our business anything. And it was the right thing to do."

Compass first became involved with the coalition in April, when its subsidiary Bon Appetit Management Co. issued a challenge to Florida growers: If no tomato grower would pass on the extra penny to the workers and improve working conditions, Bon Appetit would not serve tomatoes in the winter at its 400 college and corporate cafeterias.

Bon Appetit was not big enough to sway any of the large growers; last month, it cut a deal with independent tomato grower Alderman Farms. But its efforts did attract the attention of its corporate parent, which operates 10,000 cafeterias in public schools, hospitals and government buildings, including the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

"We hope this will set the standard for other food service companies," said Chris Ashcroft, executive vice president of human resources at Compass. "We're using our leverage for change."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Celebrating a victory while continuing to call on Chipotle...

East Coast Growers and Packers -- one of Florida's largest tomato growers -- has agreed to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and food industry leaders to implement the CIW'S Fair Food agreements, including the penny-per-pound raise to harvesters, supply chain transparency, and a stringent code of conduct! This is a major victory in the Campaign for Fair Food and for all of us in Denver who have been working in solidarity with the CIW. In many ways it represents the culmination of the over 15 years of struggle by the CIW -- what may very well be a turning point in Florida farm labor power relations.

This major breakthrough was made possible by the growing purchasing power that the CIW in alliance with consumers nationwide have marshaled behind the principles of the Campaign for Fair Food -- the more than 65,000 restaurants across the country represented by Yum! Brands, McDonalds, Burger King, and Subway that are now committed to buying from growers that work with the CIW to implement the penny per pound wage increase, code of conduct, and farmworker participation in the monitoring system. Ultimately it was the collective purchasing power of those food industry giants that broke the two-year old logjam created by the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange's resistance to the CIW's campaign.

Furthermore, thanks to the CIW's Fair Food agreements, these companies will be working in partnership with the farmworkers of the CIW in a transparent manner in order to ensure that the farmworkers are receiving the wage increase and that the code of conduct is being followed.

Chipotle, however...

Last week, before the agreement with East Coast could be made public by the CIW or any of the other parties involved, Chipotle issued a press release claiming the agreement as the product of its labors alone.

Chipotle, rather than make a transparent, formal commitment to work with the CIW to implement a real code of conduct and the penny per pound wage increase, has seized instead on this latest news in an effort to score cheap public relations points. Indeed the only thing transparent about Chipotle's surprise press release was the brazenness of their decision to take sole credit for something it couldn't have accomplished on its own in a million years.

Just do the math.

Total market share of companies in formal agreements with the CIW, agreements that commit those companies to buying from any participating grower: over 65,000 restaurants.

Chipotle: 830

While Chipotle may have been involved in a multi-party process that brought about the East Coast decision, there is no disputing the fact that Chipotle was -- by far -- the smallest piece of the puzzle. And yet, Chipotle was the only company to jump out alone and shout from the highest mountain, "Look what I did!"

Looks like someone might have been a little too eager to wash over the public relations mess left behind by the "Food, Inc." fiasco. Unfortunately, no amount of grandstanding can substitute for real reform.

To be clear: Chipotle still has not signed an agreement with the CIW to pay the penny per pound and has not agreed to work with them to implement a code of conduct which would guarantee farmworkers the ability to participate in the protection of their own rights. There is no way for the CIW to verify that Chipotle is even paying the penny per pound, as there is no agreement on regular reporting or transparency.

East Coast's agreement to work with the CIW is something we should celebrate -- while we continue to call on Chipotle to do the right thing. (See the CIW website for all the latest.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

At long last, a grower steps forward!

The following update from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers announces an incredible victory in the Campaign for Fair Food.

Unfortunately, Chipotle has released confusing and misleading information about it's role in this triumph. This blog will no doubt have more to say about Chipotle's latest PR antics. For now though we refer you to our post Celebrating a victory while continuing to call on Chipotle....

With the start of the new season only weeks away, East Coast Growers and Packers -- one of Florida's largest tomato growers -- has agreed to work with the CIW and food industry leaders to implement the CIW'S Fair Food agreements, including the penny-per-pound raise to harvesters, supply chain transparency, and a stringent code of conduct.

The agreements -- six in all, among them the world's four largest restaurant companies and the leading organic grocer -- had been held up for nearly two years by the resistance of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE), the powerful industry lobby.
"The past two years have been difficult, as farmworkers in Immokalee and throughout Florida have been stubbornly denied the benefits of the Fair Food agreements thanks to the FTGE," said Lucas Benitez of the CIW. "But we never stopped organizing, and during those two years some of the industry's largest buyers of tomatoes signed on to the agreements, creating an ever larger share of the market committed to purchasing tomatoes only from growers who agree to meet the higher standards called for by the CIW."

"We are extremely pleased that East Coast has shown the courage and the vision to seize on this tremendous opportunity and by so doing help lead the Florida tomato industry toward a fairer, more sustainable future," added Gerardo Reyes, also of the CIW. "We will be working closely with East Coast and our food industry partners in the coming weeks to ensure that we have an effective mechanism in place for passing the penny-per-pound to the workers and a solid plan for monitoring compliance with the code of conduct. There is still much work to be done but, at long last, we are working together, and when we work together -- farmworkers, growers, retailers, and consumers -- we can forge a relationship that will benefit all of us."

With a major grower now committed to implementing the CIW agreements, the Campaign for Fair Food turns to those companies that have remained on the sidelines, companies like Publix and Kroger, Sodexo and Aramark, Wendy's and Quizno's, Costco and WalMart.

The familiar excuses for inaction -- "we don't get involved in disputes between our suppliers and their employees," or "but there's no way to get the penny to the workers" -- no longer hold.

The question to those companies now is simple: Will your company support social responsibility? Will your company put its purchasing power behind those in the Florida tomato industry who are willing to do the right thing for their workers, or will you continue to support the growers who stand against progress?

The time for stalling is over. Now, to borrow a phrase, is the season for action.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Monday, September 7, 2009

No justice, no sustainability: ‘Time’ was right about cheap food—but forgot farmworkers

This is a great article published at and takes Chipotle to task for leaving farmworkers out of its definition of "sustainable."

By Sean Sellers

The widely read recent Time cover story “Getting Real about the High Price of Cheap Food” is a useful complement to current discussions about our food system. It offers further evidence of the mainstreaming of ideas and practices that were considered radical or irrelevant a mere decade ago.

But the author errs by avoiding any mention of the three million farm laborers who pick our fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, this omission is not simply limited to one article. Rather the idea that farmworkers somehow exist apart from our food system routinely comes across as the conventional wisdom framing many discussions about sustainability.

The undeniable reality is that farmworkers form the base of the food industry, and their brutal exploitation dates back centuries. It is reasonable to point out that the U.S. has never fully grappled with the noxious legacies of racism, violence, and disenfranchisement that underwrote the growth of much large-scale agriculture: first in the form of chattel slavery; and later with convict labor, sharecropping, and debt peonage.

Today, migrant farmworkers are among the poorest, least-protected workers in the nation. The Department of Labor describes them as a workforce “in significant economic distress,” and leading social scientists corroborate these findings. Farmworkers toil on both conventional and organic farms, often in similarly degraded working conditions.

In Florida, the poverty and powerlessness at the heart of the agricultural industry have created fertile ground for modern-day slavery. In the last decade alone, federal prosecutors have uncovered seven cases of forced labor in Florida’s fields preying upon native-born and immigrant workers alike. These prosecuted cases are, as the U.S. Attorney’s office says, just the tip of the iceberg.

Yet there are hopeful signs amidst this dire human rights crisis, as well as important opportunities for sustainable agriculture advocates.

The Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is leading a strategic, broadly supported reform effort. To improve tomato harvesters’ wages and working conditions, the CIW has forged innovative accords with Whole Foods Market and Bon Apetit Management Company, as well as the world’s four largest fast-food companies (Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Subway). The agreements harness the purchasing power of large buyers to raise the harvesting wage floor, create a structural voice for workers in the industry, and establish market consequences for growers who use forced labor. These companies deserve credit for exhibiting leadership on an issue of pressing importance.

Foodie darling Chipotle, however, steadfastly refuses the historic opportunity to partner with the CIW. The company has instead opted for a go-it-alone approach to address farmworker exploitation. This deserves scrutiny. In an industry with such an overwhelming imbalance of power between employer and employee, farmworkers are uniquely situated to identify the root cause of the problems they face and advance practical solutions. Their participation at all levels is vital to any meaningful change.
Human rights are integral to real sustainability. It is past time to bring farmworkers in from the periphery of these discussions, particularly when the abuses in question are so flagrant and systemic. Any honest reckoning with our food system - from magazine articles to supply chain purchasing policies - must treat farmworkers as indispensable partners worthy of a seat at the table.

Sean Sellers is a Food and Society Fellow at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.