CIW’s early anti-slavery efforts called “spark that ignited a movement” at White House ceremony…
At the first-ever White House Forum to Combat Human Trafficking last week — an event that involved everyone from Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State John Kerry — the CIW and the Fair Food Program were front and center.
The Fair Food Program was singled out in a major new report of recommendations to the President as “one of the most successful and innovative programs” in the world today in the fight to uncover — and prevent — modern-day slavery, a fight President Obama himself called “one of the great human rights causes of our time.”
The report, by the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, was released in conjunction with the White House event. The Council is charged with “Identifying best practices and successful modes of delivering social services,” and with “Making recommendations to the President and the Administration on changes in policies, programs, and practices.” Here’s the excerpt from their report, entitled, “Building Partnerships to Eradicate Modern-Day Slavery,” citing the Fair Food Program:
“EFFORTS TO COMBAT SLAVERY IN OUR FOOD AND PRODUCTS:
One of the most successful and innovative programs we researched is the Fair Food Program, developed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and promoted in partnerships with T’ruah (formerly Rabbis for Human Rights North America) and the International Justice Mission, among others.
Slavery and other human rights abuses are an ongoing threat in U.S. tomato fields. Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Molloy once called Florida’s tomato fields “ground zero” for modern-day slavery in the United States. Over the past 15 years, seven cases of forced labor slavery have been successfully prosecuted, resulting in more than 1,000 people freed from slavery in U.S. tomato fields.
The Fair Food program, developed by tomato pickers themselves through CIW, establishes a zero tolerance policy for slavery, child labor, and serious sexual abuse on Florida’s tomato farms. Companies that join the Fair Food Program agree to pay a small price increase for fairly harvested tomatoes (1.5 cents more per pound) and promise to shift purchases to the Florida tomato growers who abide by these higher standards—and away from those who will not. Major fast food companies, like McDonalds and Subway, and supermarket chains Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have already endorsed the Fair Food Program.” read more >>
The report went on to recommend that the Obama Administration demonstrate leadership in the fight to eradicate slavery by taking decisive action in the government’s own supply chain, writing:
“WE RECOMMEND THAT…:
2. THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION LEAD THE EFFORT TO ELIMINATE SLAVE LABOR IN THE PURCHASE AND CONSUMPTION OF GOODS AND SERVICES.
… With President Obama’s release of the Executive Order to eliminate human trafficking in federal contracting, the U.S. Government will become a worldwide leader in taking steps to eliminate modern-day slavery from its own contracting and procurement practices. We applaud the Obama Administration for this bold step and encourage the Administration to robustly implement the Order…”
We here at the CIW are sincerely honored by the President’s Council’s consideration of our work. We look forward to working more closely with the the Obama Administration in the months and years ahead toward both the incorporation of the Fair Food Program itself within the federal government’s produce supply chain, and the inclusion of the Fair Food Program’s lessons and principles of corporate accountability into future guidelines for broader private sector engagement in the fight to eradicate modern-day slavery.
Meanwhile, at the same White House event, just how far that fight has come over the past twenty years was captured in the comments of Ambassador at Large Luis CdeBaca, Director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Ambassador CdeBaca told a story about the CIW’s first slavery investigation, US v. Miguel Flores, that placed the CIW at the birth of the modern-day anti-slavery movement (you can watch his comments in the video at this link, beginning around the 25 min. mark):
“[This] reflects what we’ve learned since the early stages of the fight. When I was assigned to my first trafficking case — before we called it trafficking — my supervisor called me into the office and said ‘You know, this group, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, keeps coming in and talking about this one crewleader and we’ve never been able to prove anything on him, but where there’s smoke there’s fire.’
And we went out and we were able to investigate that case, with the non-governmental organizations, working across inter-agency lines, working with the private sector, working with folks from every sector and harnessing their efforts to take Miguel Flores off the streets.
So where there was smoke, there was fire, and that little spark has ignited a movement.”
Events at the White House this past week were another milestone in the history of the CIW and our two-decade old fight to end the exploitation and abuse of farmworkers. The Fair Food Program and our Anti-Slavery Campaign have been recognized before by many branches of the federal government — including the State Department, the Justice Department, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Agriculture — but this is the first time that the White House itself has taken notice of, and praised, our efforts. That alone is quite an achievement for a movement that was born in the dusty streets of one of this country’s poorest towns.
But recognition of the unprecedented changes taking place in Florida’s fields today — changes called “one of the great human rights success stories of our day” in a recent Washington Post op/ed, changes that are the result of a unique partnership among farmworkers, growers, corporate food giants, and consumers — is not enough. Right here at home, Florida’s largest grocer, Publix, continues to turn its back on human rights and act as though the historic advances in farm labor justice achieved through this partnership are really nothing more than a “labor dispute” not worthy of Publix’s participation. Publix officials even go further than that, distorting the truth about the Fair Food Program in a desperate attempt to avoid doing their part to secure humane conditions for the farmworkers who pick their company’s tomatoes. And beyond Publix, the rest of the supermarket industry, as well as several significant players in the restaurant industry like Wendy’s and Darden Restaurants, continue to hold out.
The Fair Food Program may win the praise and admiration of everyone from your house to the White House, but until Publix — and all the retail food giants still refusing to join — stop burying their heads in the sand and join the Program, our victories will remain incomplete.
It’s time for the stalling and the public relations games to end. Last week’s White House recognition of the Fair Food Program should have marked the day when good faith replaced bad, when real social responsibility replaced hypocrisy, when truth and partnership replaced dishonesty and division. But it didn’t. And so the campaign goes on, only now with one more — very important — new ally.