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“You shall love the Lord your God.” Matt. 22:37

The Campaign for Fair Food

Farmworkers and consumers advancing human rights and social responsibility

The Campaign for Fair Food is a partnership effort between farmworkers and consumers to urge major food buyers to end farmworker poverty and vulnerability by improving wages and working conditions in the Florida tomato fields.  The Campaign appeals to food buyers to join the Fair Food Program, a collaborative, sustainable and comprehensive effort among the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, eleven major food buyers and the vast majority of Florida tomato growers that is advancing human rights for farmworkers through corporate responsibility and grower accountability. 

Through the Campaign for Fair Food, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) joins the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Unitarian Universalist Association and many other faith bodies including the International Justice Mission, Sojourners and T’ruah (formerly Rabbis for Human Rights – North America), in working side-by-side with the CIW farmworkers toward a more sustainable and just food system.  The Presbyterian Hunger Program fosters Presbyterian participation in the Campaign across the nation.

The Campaign for Fair Food has been successful in achieving landmark agreements between the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and some of the largest food corporations in the world.  These agreements are changing the very structure of the food system so that it ensures the human rights of the men and women who harvest the majority of our nations tomatoes.

Participating food buyers are paying a net penny per pound increase to improve wages for farmworkers who harvest tomatoes for their suppliers (this increase is paid to growers who pass it on to farmworkers as a bonus in their paychecks), counteracting the downward pressure food buyers’ high volume/low cost purchasing has had on wages and working conditions.  Through fair food agreements with the CIW, willing buyers and over 90 percent of the Florida growers are, right now, implementing a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process.

 Learn more about the Fair Food Program and how it works.

 Watch the PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly report on the CIW’s Fair Food Program →

Conditions in the fields

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida supplies over 90 percent of the tomatoes consumed by Americans from October to May. However, according to the US Department of Labor, most farmworkers today earn less than $12,000 a year.  Like textile workers at the turn of the last century, Florida tomato harvesters are still paid by the piece. The average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32-lbs of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980. As a result of that stagnation, a worker today must pick more than 2.25 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday -- nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage thirty years ago, when the rate was 40 cents per bucket.

Tomato pickers harvesting in Florida, toil long days in pesticide laden fields with no right to overtime pay, no health insurance, no sick leave, no paid vacation, and no right to organize to improve these conditions. In the most extreme cases, workers are held against their will and forced to work through violence or threat of violence, in modern-day slavery rings.  The CIW has worked with the US Department of Justice and FBI to successfully investigate and prosecute 7 cases of slavery in recent years, freeing more than 1,200 slaves.  These cases have been prosecuted using laws put on the books following reconstruction or under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed in 2000.  The conditions in the fields are appalling and systemic.  But through the CIW’s Fair Food agreements we are seeing, as one US Senator stated, “the beginning of the end of this harvest of shame.”

Campaigns and historic agreements

The Campaign for Fair Food was initiated in April 2001 when the CIW called for a nation-wide consumer boycott of Taco Bell restaurants and products.   Presbyterians and other people of faith had long offered food and clothing to the farmworkers in Immokalee, FL.  Through this experience people of faith were led to ask “why is it that farmworkers work 10-12 hours a day, sometimes 7 days a week and still cannot support their own families?”  It was this fundamental question of human dignity that prompted the Presbytery of Tampa Bay to overture the 214th General Assembly in support of the Taco Bell boycott. After prayer and study, the General Assembly voted affirmatively to support the boycott in June 2002.  Over the next three years Presbyterians joined Methodists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists and many other people of faith in observing the boycott, writing letters, engaging in public protest, and supporting the CIW on “truth tours” where workers traveled cross-country to educate consumers about the exploitative conditions that lay behind the food we consume.  The PC(USA) played a unique role in convening talks between the CIW and Yum! Brands which helped lead to the farmworkers’ historic agreement with Yum! Brands/Taco Bell in 2005.  In June of 2006, the 217th General Assembly passed a resolution affirming the church’s ongoing work with the CIW and the Campaign for Fair Food in light of the confessional heritage of the PC(USA).

The Campaign for Fair Food then focused on reaching similar agreements with the largest fast-food corporations in the world.  Together with other people and institutions of faith and conscience, the PC(USA) played an active role in engaging corporations through letter-writing, public witness, hosting educational programs, prayer, and conversation.  This engagement has helped the CIW achieve agreements with McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Chipotle Mexican Grill in the fast-food industry; Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s in the grocery industry, the nation’s largest food service providers: Compass Group, Bon Appétit, Aramark,and Sodexo.  Through these agreements, these food buyers have committed to paying at least a net penny per pound increase to improve workers’ wages and to purchase tomatoes ONLY from those Florida tomato growers who participate in the Fair Food Program and uphold these higher standards.

How the Fair Food agreements address modern-day slavery in the fields

Modern-day slavery doesn’t occur in a vacuum; it flourishes in degraded work environments with poverty wages and few rights.  The high-volume, low-cost purchasing practices of giant corporate buyers drive growers to hold down costs wherever they can which has resulted in stagnant, poverty wages for 30 years and, in the worst instances, modern-day slavery.  Oxfam America wrote in a 2004 study, Like Machines in the Fields, "Squeezed by the buyers of their produce, growers pass on the costs and risks imposed on them to those on the lowest rung of the supply chain: the farmworkers they employ" (page 36).   The agreements between the CIW and food corporations include a zero-tolerance policy for slavery in their supply chains.  How does this work?  In 2008 when crew-leaders working for two Florida growers were sentenced in federal court for enslaving farmworkers, including locking tomato pickers in a cargo truck, chaining them to posts, and forcing them to work in the fields, companies that had fair food agreements with CIW were legally obligated to suspend purchases from involved growers. This is the first time in history that such market power has been used to address to the enslavement of workers in the US agricultural industry.  Further, the agreements address the poverty and abuses that allow slavery to flourish by enforcing the code of conduct for fair working conditions, the penny per pound wage increase, and by driving purchasing to growers who meet higher standards for workers.  The 218th General Assembly committed the church to coordinated work against modern-day slavery, including in the agricultural industry.  The CIW is a partner with the PC(USA) in educating and working to eradicate this grave human rights violation.

Read more about how the Fair Food Program addresses modern slavery in this article from Presbyterians Today called “Freedom in the Fields.”

Next Steps

Aside from Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s, the supermarket industry has been slow to adopt the higher standards widely accepted by the fast-food and food service industries and supported by Florida growers.  Additionally, Wendy’s is the only fast food company among the top five that is not participating in the Fair Food Program.  So the Campaign is urging Kroger, Ahold, and Publix supermarket corporations  as well as Wendy’s to work with the CIW to improve farmworker wages by paying an additional net penny per pound and to address human rights abuses by adopting and enforcing the Fair Food code of conduct.

What you can do

There are many ways that you and your congregation can contribute to this nationwide movement for fair food. 

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