The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has signed a historic agreement with Florida Tomato Growers Exchange (FTGE) to implement the CIW’s Fair Food principles, which includes a strict code of conduct with market consequences for violations, innovative new means for workers to participate in the protection of their own rights, and a penny-per-pound pay raise.
Because the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange represents almost all tomato growers in Florida, CIW estimates the agreement, formalized in November, will improve pay and working conditions for 90 percent of Florida’s 30,000-worker tomato industry.
The first company targeted by CIW, Yum Brands, agreed to pay a penny more per pound after a four-year campaign. Soon after, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, and Whole Foods followed. During the last year, all the major food service companies have signed on.
How we did it
It has taken fifteen years of struggle to get to this point. Pressure on growers in the 1990’s to improve wages and working conditions achieved only limited gains, so CIW turned to a corporate campaign strategy, targeting well-known brands that purchase tomatoes from the growers for whom they work. During this time, Oxfam America worked with CIW to support its campaigns, by providing media support, lobbying some of the companies, and emailing Oxfam supporters to take action.
The CIW combined worker-led organizing in the fields, tireless education and publicity about farmworkers’ conditions among consumers, and coalition building with student, labor, and community groups into a worker-led corporate campaign that won a total of nine agreements with some of the largest companies in the food industry. However, for several years, FTGE actively opposed and even blocked agreements between CIW and its member growers and threatened its members with fines if they signed on.
A turning point in the campaign came in October when two major growers reached deals directly with the CIW. The pressure on FTGE, which is both an industry lobbying group and a trade organization, grew from within until it finally agreed to a phased-in agreement over the current growing season to be fully implemented in the 2011-2012 growing season.
By campaign’s end, even participating growers in the FTGE acknowledged past problems and recognized the value of genuine social responsibility for the long-term viability of the industry.
“We realize that this is a work in progress and this partnership will get stronger over time. It will not be completed overnight. As we move forward, we can be certain that labor complaints will continue to arise in the foreseeable future, but it is how we deal with these complaints in this new partnership that will serve to demonstrate that we are serious and that our approach is working,” they said in a joint statement. “As time goes by, we are confident that we will be able to weed out the bad actors and, working together, build a stronger, more sustainable industry that will be better equipped than ever to thrive in an increasingly competitive market place.”
What the workers get
The agreement implements CIW’s Fair Food Code, which:
sets up CIW-led, worker-run “know your rights” sessions to be conducted on company time
creates a cooperative complaint investigation and resolution system with protections against retaliation
provides for participatory health and safety committees, shade in the fields, and the right for workers to halt work without reprisals if they fear for their safety
defines a broad set of labor standards with market consequences for growers who fail to comply, including protections against sexual harassment; wage violations; and racial, national, or religious discrimination
ends the customary practice of requiring workers to overfill their buckets, ensuring workers are paid for all the tomatoes they pick
Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, called the agreement between the FTGE and CIW “a real game-changer for farm workers and generations to come.”
“Oxfam is proud to support CIW and commends the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange for leading the way. This is the step that will transform Florida’s fields of shame to workplaces of dignity where workers are treated with the respect they so deserve.”