Wake Forest Law Review: “Preventing Forced Labor in Corporate Supply Chains: The Fair Food Program and Worker-driven Social Responsibility”

A CIW Education Team leads a conversation on the right to shade and other health and safety rights under the Fair Food Program with workers at a participating farm on the Eastern Shore of Virginia during a recent education session.

Newly published article provides most comprehensive analysis to date of CIW’s award-winning Fair Food Program and the Worker-driven Social Responsibility paradigm…

Workers participate in a Know Your Rights session with the CIW’s Education Team during a recent visit to a participating farm on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

When the Wake Forest Law Review decided earlier this year to dedicate an entire issue to the problem of human trafficking, they solicited an article from the CIW on the Fair Food Program and its unique success in preventing forced labor in agriculture.  That article, entitled “Preventing Forced Labor in Corporate Supply Chains: The Fair Food Program and Worker-driven Social Responsibility,” was published this month.  As soon as it was, it became the most thorough analysis to date of the FFP’s history, its roots in the CIW’s organizing approach, its unique mix of mechanisms and how those mechanisms work in concert to ensure effective monitoring and enforcement of the Program’s human rights-based code of conduct.  

Here below is a series of extended excerpts from the article, but we hope you find the time to read it in its entirety for a more complete picture of the program that helped launch a new paradigm for the verifiable, sustainable protection of workers’ fundamental human rights in corporate supply chains.

On the CIW’s Organizing Philosophy:

CIW employed an organizing philosophy based on the principles of community education and leadership development. Born in Latin America and the Caribbean and known as Popular Education, it was an approach familiar to many early CIW members from their experiences with peasant and community organizations in their home countries. Popular Education emphasizes the importance of participatory dialogue and critical analysis as communities tackle their problems, and is in many ways the obverse of the traditional American community organizing approach. While the latter emphasizes individual, charismatic leadership, Popular Education emphasizes broad-based, participatory leadership with techniques designed to facilitate member participation in group reflections and decision-making. This dedication to the principles of worker participation and a continuous process of analysis and reflection would lead to critical insights into the causes of supply chain abuses and carry over into the development of the FFP, where it continues to prove essential to the Program’s success in ending forced labor and other human rights violations…

On the Campaign for Fair Food:

… In short, CIW concluded that, along with the other megabrands, “Taco Bell makes farmworkers poor,” and it was with that slogan that, in 2001, it launched the Campaign for Fair Food and the seminal Taco Bell boycott…  Today, fourteen companies participate in the FFP. Through the careful, painstaking work of face-to-face meetings at schools, churches, and community centers across the country; the early adoption of social media; and thousands of protests big and small, from fifteen people to three thousand, the CIW was able to build a powerful, national farmworker/consumer alliance from scratch. From those years of tireless organizing emerged a coalition of tens of thousands of individual consumers who raised their voices at the very apex of the same hierarchical market structure that was driving farmworker poverty. CIW leveraged that consumer demand to change the behavior of the retail food brands that occupy the next level down in that pyramid, harnessing their purchasing power through binding legal agreements to raise wages and improve working conditions, addressing the damage that had been done for decades…

On the Fair Food Program:

The FFP is the first example of the CIW’s WSR model. Since its inception in 2011, the model has proved uniquely capable of tackling even the most pernicious, and previously intractable, problems in corporate supply chains…

… Unlike Corporate Social Responsibility regimes and other NGO approaches that promulgate flowery codes of conduct but lack any effective mechanisms to enforce their “standards,” the FFP has at every level of the program constructed mechanisms that ensure, not just promise, lasting social change…

[Market Consequences] … The FFP oversight and remedial regime is discussed in detail below, but if a grower is suspended from the Program for failure to abide by the Fair Food Code of Conduct, participating buyers cannot purchase from that grower until it gains reinstatement. This binding provision is the sine qua non of compliance. Without it corporations could, and therefore would, walk away when confronted with a significant disruption to their existing supply chains. The fundamental social change created by the FFP is not free, and is not always easy. Only the real threat of losing sales provides the necessary motivation for growers to make the sometimes-difficult choices involved in modernizing their labor practices.  Time and again, when entreaties to “do the right thing” have not proved persuasive, as they rarely do when money and power are in play, the prospect of a grower losing a significant portion of its sales has carried the day…

[Worker-drafted Code of Conduct] … The centrality of worker participation is a foundational precept of the CIW’s organizing strategy and of the WSR model, but as the Fair Food Code demonstrates, that participation is a functional necessity, not a matter of philosophy. Apart from those perpetrating supply chain abuses, only workers have the requisite knowledge and understanding of the various forms of abuse visited upon them every day. And only workers have an abiding and personal interest in eliminating those abuses. Without the direct involvement of workers, no outside “standard setting organization,” no matter how well-intentioned, can even identify the relevant problems, much less fashion effective solutions…

[Complaint Mechanism] … While each FFP enforcement mechanism relies on the others for its impact, much as a watch will not function properly unless all of its gears are properly engaged, it is the Program’s finely tuned complaint resolution system that has the most immediate and penetrating daily impact on the work environment. Indeed, it is not possible to rid supply chains of forced labor, or any other unwanted behavior, without a complaint resolution mechanism that: (1) fully protects workers who utilize it from retaliation of any kind; (2) operates in languages and at hours that afford workers unfettered access; and (3) provides informed, fair, and timely resolutions to complaints…

On the Promise of Private Regulatory Systems for Preventing Human Trafficking:

On a macro level, the FFP is a private regulatory system almost completely divorced from this country’s legal system. The only point of contact between the two is the ability of CIW or a participating buyer to resort to the courts if there has been a breach of a FFA. This near total separation is by design, and reflects two basic realities. First, our legal system has not, to date, proved particularly hospitable to farmworkers or other disempowered people, either legislatively or judicially. Because such groups have a greatly diminished voice in the arena of political debate, their views and interests, if considered at all, are always diluted. However, in the WSR model that is the FFP, the diminished voice of the marginalized is raised in chorus with the powerful voice of consumers. When together they demand that corporations clean up their supply chains, the outside noise and procedural barriers of the legal system fall away, the gears of the marketplace engage, and the interested parties are freed to devise effective solutions that work for both sides…

Conclusion:

WSR offers the promise of slave-free supply chains around the world. By placing workers at the center of design and implementation, WSR better identifies and detects workplace abuses, fashions oversight systems and remedies that work, and brings to bear the vast resources of workers as the first line of defense for their own rights. When backed by the purchasing decisions and power of multinational mega-corporations, WSR has demonstrated that it can address even the most pernicious and stubborn workplace abuses, including modern-day slavery.

The FFP embodies the enforcement-driven effectiveness of the WSR model. By focusing on the root cause of abuse (i.e., money), and establishing a private regulatory structure within which such abuse does not pay, the FFP models an approach that can succeed in a multitude of low-wage environments around the globe.

Read the article in its entirety here.

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