Friday 25 March 2011
by: Yana Kunichoff, t r u t h o u t | Report
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization fighting for the rights of farmworkers in the large agricultural community of Southern Florida, has launched its first major mobilization in the Northeast to pressure the food retailers Ahold and Publix to address human rights violations in their production supply chain.
On March 5, 2011, supporters marched and protested in Tampa, Florida in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers “Do the Right Thing” campaign. (Photo: National Farm Worker Ministry)
A bus full of farmworkers, students, religious leaders and consumers held their first rally in Boston in late February and continued their corporate accountability actions aimed at the large supermarkets with a week-long tour of the East Coast.
Santiago Perez, 49, a farmworker in Immokalee who took part in the week-long action kicking off the campaign, told Truthout in an email interview: "We hope this tour will help us achieve our goal of reaching agreements with the supermarket chains such as Publix, Stop & Shop, and others."
"The changes that we're seeking are very important for farmworkers and their families," said Perez, who is originally from Guatemala.
The campaign is pushing for Publix and Ahold to join a partnership of farmworkers, tomato growers and retail food stores and agree to CIW's Fair Food principles, which include a wage increase of one penny per pound on tomatoes picked by workers, a cooperative system to resolve complaints, a comprehensive health and safety program, a worker-to-worker education process and a strict code of conduct for the industry.
Stores and companies including Whole Foods, Taco Bell's parent company Yum! Brands Inc., McDonald's and Burger King Holdings Inc., most after years of targeted protests by CIW, are already on board with the Fair Food principles, which CIW says make a significant difference to the earning power and standard of living of farmworkers.
Farmworkers are among the lowest-paid workers in the US. They currently earn 50 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes; CIW argues that a penny per pound increase for a worker who carries two tons or more of tomatoes a day could raise that worker's yearly income from $10,000 to $17,000 a year.
The adoption of Fair Food principles marks the first time that many workers - an estimated 33,000 will benefit from the changes in working conditions - will have their working hours regulated and a system of redress set up.
The majority of the workers are Central American or Mexican migrants, though homeless US citizens have also been recruited to work in South Florida's tomato fields, which export more than 90 percent of the fresh tomatoes grown in the US. Since 1997, seven Justice Department investigations into farmworker exploitation have found abuses ranging from the withholding of pay to beatings and workers being locked into farm trucks - conditions that federal investigators have likened to slavery.
Publix, one of the largest US grocery chains, and Ahold, a Dutch-based international supermarket chain that owns stores including Stop & Shop, Giant of Landover and the online grocery delivery service Peapod, have refused to sign on to CIW's principles, saying that they source many of their tomatoes from growers who cooperate with the CIW; Ahold also declined to condition its purchase of tomatoes on growers' compliance with the Fair Food principles.
But CIW argues that without the retailers that set the prices of tomatoes on board, the penny-per-pound wage raise will be undercut and the push to improve working conditions will be undermined.
"We know that these companies can help improve our wages and working conditions," said Florida farmworker Perez, "so it's time for them to do the right thing."