EEOC singles out Fair Food Program as “radically different accountability mechanism” in landmark report on harassment in the workplace!

CIW's Nely Rodriguez during last week's anti-sexual violence training

The CIW’s Nely Rodriguez leads an anti-sexual violence training earlier this year at Pacific Tomato Growers, the first farm to join the Fair Food Program in 2010.

EEOC Select Task Force releases high-level report, recommendations draw heavily on example of enforcement-driven FFP model with focus on education, protected complaint system, and corrective action…

Once again, a government body has studied the Fair Food Program model in an effort to address an ongoing human rights crisis.  And once again, the Fair Food Program is singled out as uniquely effective at not just remedying, but preventing longstanding human rights abuses.

In 2014, the Chair of the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights hailed the Fair Food Program as “a ground-breaking accountability arrangement,” after members of the Working Group visited Immokalee in the course of their global study of human rights violations in corporate supply chains.  In 2015, the White House awarded the CIW a Presidential Medal in recognition of the Fair Food Program’s “extraordinary efforts to combat human trafficking.”  

And now, in 2016, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in the course of its nationwide study of harassment in the workplace, has identified the Fair Food Program as a “radically different accountability mechanism” and adopted many of the FFP’s mechanisms as core recommendations in a report released late last month.

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The CIW worker-to-worker education team addresses tomato harvesters in Georgia earlier this summer on their rights under the Fair Food Program.

Here is a brief excerpt from the report, highlighting the Task Force’s interest in the FFP:

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“Before moving on to detailed recommendations, we pause to highlight a radically different accountability mechanism that we find intriguing, and solicited testimony regarding at one of our public meetings. A number of large companies, such as McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, have begun to hold their tomato growers accountable by buying tomatoes only from those growers who abide by a human rights based Code of Conduct, which, among other elements, prohibits sexual harassment and sexual assault of farmworkers. This effort, called the Fair Food Program, was developed and is led by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a farmworker-based human rights organization in Florida. The companies agreed to the program because of consumer-driven market pressures, and most of the agricultural companies that entered the program did so because of the resulting financial pressures.[166]

As part of the program, the CIW conducts worker-to-worker education programs. There is also a worker-triggered complaint resolution mechanism, which can result in investigations, corrective action plans, and if necessary, suspension of a farm’s “participating grower” status, which means the farm could lose its ability to sell to participating buyers.[167] There are currently 14 businesses and 17 growers participating in the program.[168]

Starting from the unhappy, but unsurprising, finding that “anywhere from 87% to 94% of individuals did not file a formal complaint” when faced with harassment, the report goes on to make what it calls the “business case for preventing harassment”:

The business case for preventing harassment is sweeping. At the tip of the iceberg are direct financial costs associated with harassment complaints. Time, energy, and resources are diverted from operation of the business to legal representation, settlements, litigation, court awards, and damages. These are only the most visible and headline-grabbing expenses. They also only address employees who report harassment, which, as we explained, may account for only a fraction of the harassment that occurs.

The business case extends far deeper. It encompasses employees who endure but never report harassment, as well as coworkers and anyone else with an interest in the business who witness or perceive harassment in the workplace. When accounting for all those affected by it, harassment becomes more insidious and damaging. In addition to the costs of harassment complaints, the true cost of harassment includes detrimental organizational effects such as decreased workplace performance and productivity, increased employee turnover, and reputational harm.

After citing the Fair Food Program as a particularly effective and laudable model, the report goes on to present policy recommendations that read like a list of the mechanisms at the heart of the FFP:

EEOC’s position, which after our study we believe remains sound, is that employers should adopt a robust anti-harassment policy, regularly train each employee on its contents, and vigorously follow and enforce the policy.[170] EEOC recommends that a policy generally include:

  • A clear explanation of prohibited conduct, including examples;
  • Clear assurance that employees who make complaints or provide information related to complaints, witnesses, and others who participate in the investigation will be protected against retaliation;
  • A clearly described complaint process that provides multiple, accessible avenues of complaint;
  • Assurance that the employer will protect the confidentiality of harassment complaints to the extent possible;
  • A complaint process that provides a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation; and
  • Assurance that the employer will take immediate and proportionate corrective action when it determines that harassment has occurred, and respond appropriately to behavior which may not be legally-actionable “harassment” but which, left unchecked, may lead to same.

We will have more on the EEOC report and its significance for the FFP in the days ahead.  In the meantime, you can find the report in its entirety, and more on this landmark study, here.

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