Fair Food Program takes United Nations Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva by storm…

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From left to right, Cheryl Queen (Vice President for Communications of Compass Group), Greg Asbed (CIW), and Miguel Rios (Agricultural Enforcement Coordinator, Southeast Region, US Department of Labor) address the United Nations Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva on the structure and function of the CIW’s Fair Food Program and the collaboration among workers, corporations, and government that has resulted in an unprecedented level of enforcement of farm labor rights.

Phil Bloomer, Executive Director of Business and Human Rights Resource Center: CIW’s Fair Food Program “a powerful example of the Protect, Respect, and Remedy pillars (of the UN General Principles)”…

In a remarkable panel convened in partnership between the United Nation’s Working Group on Business and Human Rights and the Business and Human Rights Resource Center, the CIW’s Fair Food Program took center stage at the United Nations in Geneva last week, and its enforcement-focused, worker-driven model was the talk of the three-day forum. 

Praised variously as “inspiring”, “impressive”, and “powerful”, the Fair Food Program was lifted up by the panel organizers as a model with “so many lessons to learn for cases around the world.”  Toward that end, the CIW was invited, along with Fair Food Program participating buyer Compass Group and the US Department of Labor, to present on how the Fair Food Program works and the nature of the unique collaboration among workers, retail corporations, and government that is revolutionizing farm labor rights enforcement.

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The event began with an introduction by UN Working Group member Dante Pesce (far left, above), who laid out the purpose of the panel:

… We’d like to highlight experiences that actually can inspire and can demonstrate that it’s possible to actually create mechanisms that can prevent or avoid negative [human rights] impacts, and when negative impacts do occur, there are actually mechanisms in place for judicial or non-judicial remedies for solving those problems.

He was followed by Phil Bloomer (second from left above), Executive Director of the Business and Human Rights Resource Center, who introduced the CIW and the Fair Food Program.  He began with a description of the program’s origins:

… It started very much at the farm level but realized quickly that it had to start engaging with the systemic issues, and then it went to speak to the major food brands, whose purchasing power in the tomato supply chain can either promote fair wages and humane labor standards, or it can can drive poverty wages and abuse.

He went on to describe the program’s enforcement mechanisms, saying that the Fair Food Program:

… enforces standards through binding legal contracts between the workers’ organization and retail purchasers… it includes a worker-triggered complaint mechanism that can lead to corrective action by the growers, but also can lead to the suspension of the grower’s membership.  So there are some real teeth to that.

After concluding that the Fair Food Program is a “powerful example of the  Protect, Respect, and Remedy pillars (of the UN Guiding Principles),” he passed the floor to the CIW’s Greg Asbed, who began a series of short presentations by the CIW, Compass Group, and the US Department of Labor on the Fair Food Program.  Here below, in that order, are those videos:

Greg Asbed, CIW (you can also read a transcript of Greg’s remarks here):

Cheryl Queen, Compass Group:

Miguel Rios, US Department of Labor:

Following a second set of presentations by worker and corporate representatives involved in a dispute taking place in the Cambodian garment industry and a subsequent question and answer period with the audience, the BHRRC’s Bloomer summed up his impressions from the event, thanking the participants for “an incredibly inspiring panel” and concluding:

I think what we’ve heard here is firstly the power of the brands to transform their supply chains when they cooperate with workers and with the government…

… I think we’ve heard the fundamental nature of the empowerment of workers and their representation and the respect for that representation that needs to come from the brands…

… I’m quite frankly stunned that there is a code of conduct that was drafted by the workers.  For that to be adopted by the brands is an inspiring event…

… Another one is the issue of enforcement… in terms of the market consequences for not doing what you say you will do.  Those market consequences are fundamental.  The fact that there are workers now empowered across a supply chain looking and ensuring that enforcement is critical, as well as that there is a state that’s really prepared to show rigor in upholding workers’ rights…

In short, the UN forum was an excellent opportunity for the CIW to present the Fair Food Program — and the Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) model of which it is a leading example — to the world, a world in which millions of low-wage workers toil today in corporate supply chains, suffering sub-poverty wages and inhuman working conditions without recourse to remedy.  We thank the United Nations for inviting us to participate, and look forward to working together with the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and with labor rights organizations from Vermont to Bangladesh to expand the protections — and realize the tremendous promise — of the WSR model to supply chains around the world.

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