Food for Thought on Thanksgiving Eve…



Christian Science Monitor takes a longform look at farm labor exploitation in the US, Fair Food Program progress in Florida’s fields…

With Thanksgiving just a day away — and preparations for the holiday feast already well underway in homes across the country — it is reasonable to pause for a moment to reflect on the fate of the men and women whose labor puts the food on our holiday tables.  The bountiful harvest we celebrate at this time every year is still picked largely by hand, and in most of the country the conditions workers face in the fields continue to rival those documented 55 years ago in the seminal Edward R. Murrow documentary, Harvest of Shame.

The Christian Science Monitor recently published a feature article on those conditions, and on the unprecedented progress taking place in Florida’s fields today under the Fair Food Program.  The piece, entitled “In Florida’s tomato fields, a fight for ethical farm labor grows,” is part of a series by Christian Science Monitor on the issue of human trafficking and is well worth the few minutes it takes to head over to the CSM site and read in its entirety.

But to give you a taste of the reporting you’ll find there, we’ve excerpted a few particularly salient passages here below.  The report begins with a searing, summary description of the exploitation faced by the vast majority of the country’s farmworkers, and ends its quick sketch of farm labor abuse by contrasting conditions around the country with the hard-fought changes won in Immokalee’s fields:


… Sexual harassment and assault has for decades been part of a massive, market-driven, exploitation of largely Mexican, Haitian, and Guatemalan migrant workers. A decade ago, US attorney Doug Molloy called Immokalee and its vast corporate tomato fields the “ground zero” of human slavery in the United States. According to reports and lawsuits, abuses against both legal and illegal migrants ranged from beatings and death threats to wage theft, from illegal trafficking to unhealthy exposure to farm chemicals, as well as outright slavery and rape.

Such conditions, added to the threat of deportation, underscore how the migrant laborer in the US today remains at once the most critical as well as vulnerable player in a US agricultural sector valued at $226 billion, according to the World Bank.

Farm worker exploitation, nationally, remains routine – despite strengthened congressional protections this year. Yet for most of Immokalee’s field hands, blatant wage abuses and physical cruelty have largely – and almost suddenly – vanished from the tomato rows.

It goes on to quote several experts, from farm labor crewleader Jaime Zamora (“A lot of things have changed,” he says. “Mostly, we try to take care of each other better.”) to the Dean of the RAND Graduate School, Susan Marquis (“In the past three years, [the tomato fields in Immokalee] have gone from being the worst to the best.”), to Rutgers University Labor Economist Janice Fine (“the Immokalee workers so far have managed nothing less than ‘revolutionary changes in the structure of the agriculture sector.'”).

It even takes a look at the Fair Food label — due to debut in stores this December — and the impact it can have on building even greater consumer awareness:

.. A certified “Fair Food” label for produce that is grown and packed ethically is part of a nascent “clean labor” movement that spans from the pepper fields of South Florida to small organic farms in California’s valleys. Immokalee tomatoes certified as “clean” from labor abuses are available at Whole Foods stores throughout much of the country. This fall, Giant and Shop n’ Save in New England began carrying the label…

… Such sourcing clues can be a powerful initiative, experts say, given that the labels tap directly into a US consumer base that has begun to turn once routine shopping decisions into moral guideposts. 

“The label allows personal judgment: What are you willing to tolerate and what are you willing to ignore?” says (former US attorney) Mr. Molloy. “And that’s a difficult question to avoid when the product is right there literally in folks’ shopping cart.”…

… “Labeling is a way of asserting the ability of consumers to act according to moral values that they want to implement in their lives,” says Alan Rubel, a philosophy professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who specializes in information ethics and policy. “The label tells consumers the way in which their food would fit with their moral  views.”

Finally, the piece ends with a look at the prospects for further success for the Fair Food Program, both as it continues to protect farmworkers’ rights here in Florida and as it undertakes its expansion to six new states and two new crops — where conditions remain unchanged — in the coming months.  The CIW’s Nely Rodriguez (shown here below behind the cash register at the CIW’s staple food cooperative in Immokalee) reminds readers that, outside the confines of the Fair Food program, there is still much to be done:


… But if Immokalee shows how quickly and dramatically supply chain pressure can curb labor abuses, historic conditions here are only a sliver of an exploitation problem that fills the American shopping cart, says former Immokalee farm worker Nely Rodriguez, who, along with Silvia, now works with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. The goal now, says Ms. Rodriguez, is to “expand the program to Georgia, Maryland, Virginia, Alabama – to every sector where farm workers are struggling.”

So, check out this great article in its entirety here, and keep the Fair Food movement in mind as you give thanks this year both for the abundant, delicious food so many of us take for granted at Thanksgiving, and for the remarkable changes taking place in Florida’s fields today thanks to the leadership of Immokalee’s workers and the CIW’s Fair Food Program.  

And especially remember those 1.5 million farmworkers still working in difficult, often brutal conditions in fields that are not yet part of the Fair Food Program.  Change is going to come to those fields as it has in the tomato industry in Florida, but it will take time, and in the meantime, as the Christian Science Monitor reminds us, those workers continue to suffer some of the harshest conditions in the US labor market today.  


Holiday surprise: FFSC Director Judge Laura Safer Espinoza wins prestigious Purpose Prize!

Fair Food Program’s best kept secret, secret no longer, as award makes national news!…Last week, the Fair Food Standards Council’s own Judge Laura Safer Espinoza was honored with’s prestigious Purpose Prize.  Recognizing “six over 60” who are “combining their passion and their experience for social good,” the Prize highlights Judge Laura’s immeasurable contribution to the Fair Food Program, which comes on the heels of a long and remarkable career on the bench as a New York State Supreme Court Judge.Here are some of the highlights from the Encore site’s profile of Judge Safer Espinoza (which, of course, we strongly encourage you to read in […]

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Farmworkers, allies march on Big Apple Headquarters of Wendy’s Board Chairman, Nelson Peltz!

CIW to Nelson Peltz:  “Trian has a tremendous influence over the decisions of Wendy’s — but they have forgotten to recognize the humanity of the workers.  It’s time for them to do so by joining the Fair Food Program.” On Monday evening, in the wake of Wendy’s long and frosty silence on whether or not they will join the Fair Food Program, nearly one hundred New York City community members marched from a Wendy’s franchise to the midtown Manhattan offices of Wendy’s Board Chairman Nelson Peltz, bringing the Fair Food Nation’s three-year-long public campaign all the way to the top of the corporate chain.The message from farmworkers […]

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TODAY: Get ready, New York City! Massive march, delegation to Wendy’s leadership…

“If not now, when?” Farmworkers, religious leaders in the Big Apple demand answers from Wendy’s Board Chairman Nelson Peltz…Later today, the Fair Food Nation will appear at the doorstep of the plush downtown Manhattan offices of Trian Partners, the multi-billion dollar investing firm headed by famed “activist investor” Nelson Peltz.  Why, exactly, are farmworkers and consumers protesting outside an investment firm?  Because, beyond being the owner of one of the most expensive homes in America, Mr. Peltz is the Chairman of the Board of Wendy’s and his investment firm, Trian Partners, is Wendy’s largest shareholder.  It’s reasonable to assume that there […]

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BREAKING: CIW, allies to march on NYC offices of Wendy’s Chairman Nelson Peltz!

Mark your calendar!  This coming Monday, November 16th, CIW and allies will march through the heart of New York City from a Wendy’s franchise to the office of its Chairman, Nelson Peltz.Here below is the official press release:Gerardo Reyes ChavezCoalition of Immokalee Workers, (239) 675-9234MEDIA ADVISORY:New York City Residents, Farmworkers to March on Park Avenue Offices of Wendy’s Chairman Nelson Peltz, Call on Fast Food Company to Join Award-Winning Human Rights ProgramNew York, NY – On Monday, November 16, farmworkers and New York City residents – including clergy, community leaders, students, and concerned consumers — will march from the Wendy’s restaurant […]

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Nov. 21st: “Uniting for Fair Food” National Day of Action for the Thanksgiving season…

As country prepares for Thanksgiving, Fair Food Nation prepares powerful call for justice from Publix, Wendy’s…Fall is in the air, and as the end of November draws closer, people across the country are making travel plans and pulling out favorite family recipes for the big Thanksgiving meal on November 26th.For the Fair Food Nation, the central ingredients of that meal are not only the family members around the table, but also justice for the women and men — and their families — who harvest the food on the table.This November 21st, farmworkers in Florida are calling on consumer allies across the country to join them in demanding justice — not […]

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North Carolina Publix Truth Tour kicks off in Asheville!

Western North Carolina community to Florida-based Publix:  If you want to expand into our community, you must expand your commitment to human rights!Word has come down off the mountain, and the first week of the North Carolina Publix Truth Tour — spent among the turning leaves and brisk fall breezes of the indescribably beautiful mountain community of Asheville (while today the heat index here in Immokalee will top a record 100 degrees…) — was a smashing success.  We have just received our first dispatch from the tour crew making their way across the Tarheel state, where more and more freshly-minted Publix stores are coming online every month as […]

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100+ Floridians take to the streets to keep the heat on Publix…

Farmworker families, allies launch series of fall Publix actions with massive protest at Sarasota’s Bay St. Publix, calling on Florida’s grocer to join the Fair Food Program!Last weekend, even as Publix executives up north began to prepare for the upcoming North Carolina Publix Truth Tour, the Southeastern grocer got an earful from its own hometown residents down in Florida!  Last Sunday, over 100 allies joined dozens of farmworkers and their families from Immokalee for a colorful protest at Sarasota’s Bay Street Publix.Here is an excellent report from the Alliance for Fair Food on the high-spirited weekend protest:This past Sunday, scores of Sarasota community allies united […]

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EEOC Task Force holds up Fair Food Program at national hearing as practice “we’ve seen work” to prevent and eliminate sexual harassment…

EEOC highlights Fair Food Program’s unique capacity to prevent sexual harassment at national gathering focused on “promoting the practices we’ve seen work…”This past Tuesday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gathered its Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace in Los Angeles to discuss some of the most country’s most promising models for addressing — and preventing — harassment in the workplace, from the office to the kitchens to the fields.The Task Force, launched by EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang, was established in January of this year.  Here below is an excerpt from the later press release, announcing the Task Force’s […]

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Question: What are the three most important elements of a successful social responsibility program?

Answer:  1) Enforcement 2) Enforcement 3) EnforcementThe litany of brutal human rights abuses in corporate supply chains around the globe just keeps getting longer by the day, and more horrifying with each new exposé.Longtime readers of this site are familiar with the extensive history of labor abuse in America’s fields, including Florida’s own “Harvest of Shame.”  From federal prosecutors declaring Florida “ground zero for modern-day slavery” (in the wake of seven prosecutions of forced labor operations that liberated well over 1,200 workers since 1995), to the recent PBS Frontline series “Rape in the Fields,” to the even more recent $17 million EEOC judgment against the […]

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Coming soon to Nashville air waves: Radio Dignidad 104.1 FM!

The spirit of the CIW’s Radio Conciencia spreads across the South, as workers launch Workers’ Dignity Radio in Nashville…And you can help!For five years now, one of the CIW’s strongest allies in the Southeast has been Workers’ Dignity / Dignidad Obrera, a Nashville workers’ center.  Made up of hundreds of low-wage workers in the cleaning, construction, restaurant, landscaping, meatpacking, and other industries, Workers’ Dignity organizes on the job and in Middle Tennessee’s working-class neighborhoods to end the worst workplace abuses and build a multiracial worker-led movement for economic justice in the mid-South.Each year since 2009, Workers’ Dignity has hosted farmworkers from Immokalee […]

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CIW, worker organizations from around the country, join President Obama at White House Summit on Worker Voice!

Day-long gathering tackles tough questions facing 21st century worker movement…“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”Those were the words of AFSCME President Lee Saunders as quoted by President Obama in his opening remarks at last week’s historic White House Summit on Worker Voice.  The President cited the colorful expression to capture the declining fortunes of organized labor in the US over the past several decades and the resulting demise of good, stable middle class jobs.  The many challenges facing workers today — both workers as represented by traditional unions and those beyond unions’ reach, from farmworkers in the fields to […]

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“Schooling Wendy’s” on Fair Food: 20+ cities across raise the volume in campaign against Wendy’s…

“Students across the country will be boycotting Wendy’s and getting our universities to cut ties with Wendy’s until they do the right thing by farmworkers…”It’s official:  The fall season is here!  And the Fair Food Nation’s students and young people across the country are ready.Throughout last week’s “Schooling Wendy’s” Week of Action, Wendy’s stores in over 20 cities across the country — from San Diego to Austin to Providence — were visited by scores of consumers with one simple message:  It’s about time for Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program!  And so, in addition to our report last week on the creative, high-energy protests in […]

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Wendy’s Week of Action off with a bang! Actions kick off in Orlando, Austin…

“We plan to fight until Wendy’s agrees to respect the dignity of the farmworkers its business depends on…”And, they’re off!  Starting last Sunday, the Student / Farmworker Alliance — cheered on by the rest of the Alliance for Fair Food — kicked off the National “Schooling Wendy’s” Week of Action.  Although we’ll be sharing the full round up after the jam-packed week wraps up this Sunday, we couldn’t help but share a few highlights at halftime!  Down here in Florida, we started off the week with a high-spirited picket at a Wendy’s in Orlando, along with 30+ local allies from YAYA-NFWM and Orlando’s two Unitarian […]

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Watch out, Wendy’s! 100+ Encuentro participants, farmworkers protest for Fair Food…

CIW members, students: “Maybe Wendy’s will continue to refuse to be a part of the Program today — but every day, there are more and more of us, and someday, Wendy’s will sign…”This past weekend, after months of planning and preparation, the Student / Farmworker Alliance hosted the 11th annual Encuentro in Immokalee, where students and young people from around the country gathered for a weekend to lay out a year’s worth plans for the Campaign for Fair Food. Of course, being members of the Fair Food Nation, the weekend’s participants also worked in a bit of action amidst all […]

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A cautionary tale: Farmworker women win massive judgment in sexual assault, retaliation case against Florida farm…

EEOC case a powerful reminder of:1) The ongoing epidemic of sexual violence in Florida’s fields outside the bounds of the Fair Food Program, and2) The hypocrisy of retailers and the failure of the corporate social responsibility approach to stop the violence.Last Friday’s announcement of a massive jury verdict in favor of five farmworker women who filed sexual assault and retaliation complaints against Moreno Farms (a small, now defunct eggplant, tomato, and squash farm outside of Immokalee) provides a valuable moment for reflection on the urgent need for justice in Florida’s fields and the failure of existing systems — from the […]

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